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Concerning Hobbit Rock: Exploring A Beloved Micro-Genre

Posted by Kells, January 25, 2013 06:41pm | Post a Comment
Given all the hubbub this past holiday season surrounding the opening of Peter Jackson's newest venture into J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, I think it's time to shift the spotlight onto a little known sub-subgenre tucked away, much like a hobbit hole snugly abutting a hillside, within Amoeba Music's extensive Rock Various Artists section: Hobbit Rock.



Now, I have to admit the first time I clocked the Hobbit Rock bin card I was taken aback, gagging on the  question: what the heck is this? Browsing though the titles it began to make sense. Much like unfolding a map of Middle Earth to explore a visual representation of the diverse cultures and histories that Tolkien invented to people his fictional universe, browsing Hobbit Rock is to peruse a collection of music that either inspires sincere impressions of Middle Earth or is unequivocally informed by Tolkein's fantasy writings.

In other words, if an artist makes blatant Tolkien-esque references in lyric  (apparently Led Zeppelin couldn't resist slipping more than a little Middle Earthliness into practically every album) or otherwise artistic content (see my list below) then that, friends, is pure, gem mint ten Hobbit Rock.

For something of less Middle Earth-obvious influences to qualify inclusion into this very specific category a decidedly progressive folk (or folkish prog) sort of rock ensemble most definitely seems to characterize the sonic gateway to Hobbit Rock admission. But that's something of a foggy notion, unless one considers the significant formative influence that The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings had on the emergent hippie generation, taken together with the dewy-eyed archaisms of British folk of the same era (like Vashti Bunyan's Just Another Diamond Day or just about anything by Bert Jansch), the Prog-Folk wave that followed (think Lindisfarne or Renaissance) and in the more freakish, otherworldly strains of British psychedelia (like Incredible String Band and maybe a little Hawkwind before they went 200% galactic) that would, in time, saturate into the 1970's as Progressive Rock. Peering through the Hobbit Rock lens listeners could, fathoming the above passage, stumble upon some mainstream American Folk-Rock (think Simon & Garfunkel's "Scarborough Fair/Canticle") and ultimately stub their big hairy toes on a little something called Acid Folk (like Forest or Jan Dukes de Grey).

Having seen the most recent motion picture adaptation of The Hobbit (or at least the first third of it so it would seem) I feel as though Hobbit Rock selections must and shall promote a hearty harp contingent, erring on the Celtic side of things. Alan Stivell comes immediately to mind as well as a little ditty called "Street Song" on Drag City's recent reissue of Carol Kleyn's Love Has Made Me Stronger, circa 1976. And lets not forget that little slice of Old Forest HoRo chicness Joanna Newsom served up on Portlandia last February, sitting in a little wilderness (with a bunch of crunchy kids) chanting "Tom Bombadil, Tom Bombadil" in tune with the plucking of her harp, all awash in golden sunlight. I'd bet Tolkien himself would mistake her for Goldberry, the "River-maid" -- Bombadil's ladylove. In any case harps and their ethereal tones featured prominently in scenes from The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey when Bilbo & Co. inevitably arrive at Rivendell for a spell. The only element I'd have liked to see incorporated into to the Elvish party scene: copious amounts of boxed Rosé. And maybe also a crystal soaking tub.

Then there is the whole Metal, particularly Death/Black Metal, element which could, or probably should fall into the spectrum of Hobbit Rock in that a Metric Fucktonne of the stuff claims inspiration from the deepest, darkest depths of Mordor, and pretty much Mordor alone. From band names (Amon Amarth, Burzum, Crebain, Cirith Ungol, Gorgorth, and Nazgûl just to name a few) to album titles (like Nightfall in Middle Earth by Blind Guardian, natch), lyrics (Summoning not only base all their albums on Lord of the Rings but also feature Orcish language lyrics), and artwork (like Summoning's second album, Minas Morgul, pictured right), headbangers worship the dark side of Tolkein's universe with as much fervent devotion as they do Lucifer and his brimstone domain. Plainly put, Mordor is Mecca for Metalheads.

But like any map of Middle Earth, there worlds within worlds and nooks crannied with nooks and crannies; Hobbit Rock may be one of the skinniest sections Amoeba stocks for the browsing, but the cap of its mushroom hovers dense, wide, and heavy.

Feeling adventurous? Here are some of my favorites harvested from the Hobbit Rock patch:


Gandalf the Grey - The Grey Wizard Am I

This is the first thing I ever pulled from Hobbit Rock and perhaps one of the most mega-obvious examples of what makes something Hobbit Rock-relevant. In 1972 Chris Wilson made his ultimate homage to Tolkien's literary opuses when he cut this acoustic folkadelica album chronicling his fantastical Greenich Village rambles under the name Gandalf the Grey. It's a treacly relic of bygone weirdness dripping with lyrics inspired by Tolkien's landscapes and shout outs to characters like Strider and Treebeard, particularly in "My Elven Home" and the title track. Definitely not a cup for everyone, but then again anything this chimerical is the kind of cherried obscurity that makes Hobbit Rock worthy of it's bin card.





Gryphon - Midnight Mushrumps

I'll never know what compelled someone to file this in Hobbit Rock but it is definitely one of the most charismatic progressive folk records I've ever heard (reason enough, really). The eighteen minute title track is a sonically impressive piece that incorporates medieval, baroque, and classical-era influences in its shifting structure with nary a dull moment to be met. It is the thing listen to whilst tucking into the beginning of The Hobbit or any other tome of chivalric fantasy fiction. It would also provide a choice soundtrack for anyone gearing up for a Ren Faire, LARP meet, or a costume banquet where the only dining utensils are daggers. Remember: charisma isn't learned. You must roll for it when you initially create your character and then add the appropriate bonuses.





Gandalf - Gandalf

Anyone encountering this record for the first time would likely take no issue with it's being cross-filed under Hobbit Rock until they popped it on the ol' hi-fi for a listen. Gandalf's self-titled debut is about as Gandalf-y as The Hobbits' Down to Middle Earth LP is Hobbit-y. That is to say these two records are prime examples of Tolkien's influence on the 1967 rock scene and it's reduction of his work to light-minded ephemera best pinned to a jean jacket collar. Gandalf's psych-rock covers of Tim Hardin and Eden Ahbez songs and The Hobbits' sickeningly sunshiney corn nut of a pop record with songs like "Treats" and "Daffodil Days (The Affection Song)" are possibly better indulged when mega-baked. Or perma-fried.  





Bo Hansson - Music Inspired by Lord of the Rings

This may come as a surprise but there's nothing that can beat out Swedish instrumentalist Bo Hansson's 1970 record for best adaptation of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings in both the Album Title (duh!) and Album Artwork (double duh!) Hobbit Rock categories. In fact, I urge you to check out the alternate covers of this release as they are all bad-ass, especially the 1977 reissue with a mounted Ringwraith on the front. While this record boasts zero vocal tracks it is a pleasant concept album based on Lord of the Rings. Plus it comes with a siiick LP sized insert of Tolkien himself posed on a stump. I wish there were an album of a similar calibur dedicated to The Hobbit that isn't the Rankin/Bass soundtrack with Glen Yarbrough singing "The Greatest Adventure (The Ballad of the Hobbit)".




Comus - First Utterance

Sounding like a blend of everything one could imagine being beautiful and terrifying about  embarking upon an unexpected journey through Middle Earth, Comus' 1971 debut is a fascinating, otherworldly (thus timeless) danse macabre blend of acoustic folk, progressive rock, and pagan psychedelia. Heavy themes pulse like a doom tattoo beneath a skin of acoustic guitars, violin, flute and quasi-elven, almost Arcadian, lyrical female vocal harmonies that cloak tracks like "The Herald" -- a sprawling epic that clocks in at twelve-plus minutes. Though this isn't straight up obvi Hobbit Rock, it more than conveys the sort of Dark/Acid/Folk/Prog/Rock compositional sound/vibe clash that makes it nothing if not a requisite HoRo title.





Starcastle - Starcastle

I think this one was accidentally filed in Hobbit Rock as it is crystal cut, lost seventies progressive Camelot Rock, if anything. I like to think that this wasn't necessarily a mis-file as it was a wishful symbolic gesture cast by someone who longs for similarly sprawling, Yes-like proggy fantasies mirroring Starcastle's excellent lead off track "Lady of the Lake" but with a more Tolkien-inspired take. Or something. At any rate, any track from this record could do worse than to be book-ended with any song from side two of Wishbone Ash's Argus or perhaps the greater part of Rush's Caress of Steel when creating a mix of music to read Tolkien to. Taken all together, with everything else covered here, that Tolkien mix'll surely dominate.


Interested in yet another, totally different take on what Hobbit Rock could be, please see the What's In My Bag? interview video below featuring actor Elijah "Frodo" Wood of The Hobbit / Lord of the Rings fame walking us through some of his digs, treasures and choice selections found at Amoeba Music.


Amoeba Presents Alec Byrne Rock Photography Exhibition in Los Angeles Dec. 1

Posted by Amoebite, November 27, 2012 05:17pm | Post a Comment

Photographer Alec Byrne has been covering rock music since 1960s London, starting when he was just 17 years old. Over the next 10 years, he photographed everyone from The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, The Who, David Bowie, and Mott the Hoople. Bryne's archive of 50,000 images has mostly been in storage for the last 40 years and has never been seen by the public. You can view some of these amazing photographs and meet the photographer himself one night only, December 1, at Smashbox Studios in Culver City. Admission is free and you can RSVP here.

Amoeba is proud to sponsor this incredible event, along with LA Weekly, Uber ARCHIVES, KCRW, Smashbox Studios, and BowHaus.

What: Alec Byrne: Rock & Roll Time Capsule
Where: Smashbox Studios, Culver City, CA
When: Saturday, December 1 7-10pm
Cost: Free

A pre-sale for limited edition archival quality prints will begin December 1, but you can buy limited edition show catalogs and lithographs online now.

Find out more about this one-night only exhibition.

Alec Byrne Rock & Roll Time Capsule

Another long overdue Lizzy vinyl reissue finally sees the Light (in the Attic)!

Posted by Kells, August 4, 2012 01:25pm | Post a Comment

We the people of Amoeba Music mayn't always hear ear to ear when it comes to mutual enjoyment of preferred musical genres and styles but it would seem that roughly ten out of ten Amoeba employees agree that Thin Lizzy is the hardest, heaviest most essential band of rockers, Irish or otherwise, ever assembled. Though they are perhaps more widely appreciated for their mid-career jukebox jammers like "The Boys Are Back In Town" (c'mon, who hasn't heard this one), the Bob Seger penned rocker "Rosalie" (oft covered by Motörhead), and new takes on traditional tunes like "Whiskey in the Jar" (Metallica, schmeh-tallica), Seattle-based label Light In The Attic Records has lately seen to the proper vinyl reissue of Lizzy's 1971 self-titled debut, an album that plays like a slightly psychedelic folk tinged early dawn portrait of singing bassist Phil Lynott, drummer Brian Downey, and guitarist Eric Bell

 
Thin Lizzy - "The Friendly Ranger at Clontarf Castle"
 
Dropping the needle on this long sought reish (I've had nothin' but bad luck procuring an original Decca copy for myself over the years) that a full-on night-before-Christmas-ish feeling came over me as the album's familiar portal opened once again with the simple poetic strains of lead-off track "The Friendly Ranger at Clontarf Castle" --- a sentiment that I was pleased to discover mirrored by the extensive liner notes penned by Kevin "Sipreano" Howes (see also the Jamaica-Toronto series, Rodriguez Cold Fact and Coming From Reality, Monks, Mowest anthology) featuring a recent in-depth interview with Eric Bell, and unseen archival imagery. The lowdown on the rest of the product specs exclusive to this LITA joint are as follows: original master tape transferring by Sterling Sound and re-mastering by Dave Cooley (Elysian Masters), 180-gram virgin black vinyl, original album art reproduction (both UK and US versions, the latter included on the reverse of the gatefold - excellent!). Also, it comes with a tasty poster depicting a long, lean Lynott in profile (fun fact: mine came with two of these - score!).

In an attempt to close out this post by summoning up the prose what best expresses my esteem for this record, I elect to share a little of what the LITA folks stated so succinctly concerning Thin Lizzy:

Don’t worry rock freaks; this one is for the black and blues lovers, midnight ravers, and parking lot bangers. We don’t take this mammoth responsibility lightly. Phil, Eric, and Brian and the legions of diehard Thin Lizzy supporters deserve the best and our best we’ve given. It’s funny how 1971 can sound so contemporary, a testament to the music, power, strength, feeling, and sensitivity of Thin Lizzy, three out-of-their-heads Dublin rockers who gave their heart and soul for a monster dose of rock and roll, influencing thousands upon thousands right up to the present. Thanks for the music good fellows.

Too right.

Stereopony Saddles Up for Amoeba Instore and U.S. Tour

Posted by Kells, April 6, 2012 02:23pm | Post a Comment
They may not be the first all-girl band of hard-rockin' babes from Okinawa Japan to grace the stage at Amoeba Music in San Francisco but hear me now, believe me later when I say that the Stereopony live instore performance going down at 6pm next Monday night, April 9th, is going to be an affair to remember!

Having made their major debut in 2008, Stereopony has gained a great deal of notoriety by having their songs featured as themes for various commercials, television shows and anime series, most notably their fifth single "Tsukiakari no Michishirube" doing double time as the opener for Darker Than Black: Ryuusei no Gemini. Employing catchy melodic rock hooks reminiscent of the whole high school à la Brat Pack zeitgeist met with more than a dash of mid-to-late 1990's pop-punk angst (i.e. their live sets sometimes reveal a Green Day cover) it's impossible to imagine a

Check out the video below for "Hanbunko" to see what all the fuss is about and don't forget to grab a copy of Stereopony's latest release, More! More!! More!!!, when you drop by for the live Stereopony in-store performance at Amoeba Music's SF location on Monday, April 9th. That's right folks, Amoeba Music is the place to see live music, why? Because it's always fab and always free of charge, no tickets required; did it on'em.

And if you can't make it out to Amoeba Music SF for the show check the concerts dates and deets below the video for more info on their More! More!! More!!! 2012 U.S. Tour. See you there!





Summer 2012: You CAN Play With Madness!

Posted by Kells, February 29, 2012 12:12pm | Post a Comment

You know there's something heavy in the air when Ed Force One, Iron Maiden's custom fitted and supremely airworthy Boeing 757 tour-craft, makes a low pass over your hometown's main gas, food and lodging conduit. Well, up the irons Maiden heads of America - the boys'll be back in town this summer revisiting their 1988 Seventh Son of a Seventh Son world tour with production and content to mirror their Maiden England concert home video* so closely that they're gone ahead and exhumed the title for use on yet another "between albums" tour, or the third chapter in the band's History of Iron Maiden live shows.


'Tis a thing of beauty, no? I am almost at a loss for words to explain how pumped I am for this tour. Seventh Son was the first Iron Maiden cassette I ever owned and it still serves as a source of workaday strength for me, especially the song (and music video for) "Can I Play With Madness" - any of you "talented arts" kids out there will fell me on that score. In fact, eff it, I'm so stoked right now how about we watch the music video for "Can I Play With Madness" and talk tour deets n' things after the break.

 
 

Now, if you or any of your clairvoyant friends are in the official Iron Maiden fan club then chances are you've already procured your tickets as they were made available to IMFC members today, but if you're not be ready to get the best of the leftovers on March 2nd or 3rd (check here or your local venue listings for official ticket sale dates and times) and remember to buy paperless and avoid the gauging habits secondary ticketing sites (i.e. the evil that men do lives on and on). For a complete list of set list speculations and 2012 tour dates, see below. Otherwise, up the irons! See you in D.C. and San Francisco!!!!!!!!

*Maiden England 1988 Longform Video VHS Tracklisting:
Moonchild, The Evil That Men Do, The Prisoner, Still Life, Die With Your Boots On, Infinite Dreams, Killers, Can I Play With Madness, Heaven Can Wait, Wasted Years, The Clairvoyant, Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son, The Number Of The Beast, Hallowed Be Thy Name, Iron Maiden.

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