Monthly Archives: July 2008

Richie Havens – Nobody Left to Crown

January 01, 1970

(Verve Forecast)

 

www.vervemusicgroup.com

 

 

I have to admit that I’m glad Richie Havens is still out
there making records and doing the good work he does.  This is a dangerous admission to make; it
reveals, for one, that I was biased going into this review and, perhaps more
egregiously, it also reveals how unhip I likely am.  After all, appreciating Richie Havens is one
step away from appreciating the likes of Jackson Browne and James Taylor.  God help me.

 

Younger music fans did not grow up with the music of Richie
Havens in the way that the Woodstock generation did.  But music fans take note: the legendary and
ecstatic performance immortalized in the Woodstock film does Havens something of a disservice, at least to listeners who might
find themselves listening to his new album, an album that is comprised of soft
rock tunes for aging hippie-types.

 

Lest you think I mean the preceding statement in a positive
way, please allow me to assure you that I do not.  Nobody
Left to Crown
reminds me a bit of an album like Clapton’s Pilgrim: a boneless chicken breast of an
album.  The songs are fine, the playing
is fine, the singing, as always, is fine, but in the end I found myself wanting
Havens to get some balls, particularly since the topics are heavy ones.  I want Havens to push the envelope at least a little or, failing that, I’d like his
producers to push the envelope for him.

 

On the latter topic, where co-producers Jay Newland and
Brian Bacchus brought an interesting enough mishmash of country rock and jazz
sounds together for Norah Jones’ debut, here the producers rely mostly on stock
studio sounds and package Havens in a capsule a bit too easy to swallow.  That’s
not to suggest that Havens needs Timbaland to produce his next album, but it’s
difficult not to see some parallels with artists like Dylan or Cash, both of
whom in some ways were rescued from sonic irrelevance by interested and
conscientious producers—Daniel Lanois for Dylan and Rick Rubin for Cash. 

 

In short, Havens still has the goods, but this album makes
me want to kick him in the ass to see what he can really do.  At his best, Havens is scary in his
convictions, magnificent in his performance, and beautiful in his
melodies.  Believe me, I wish I could say
otherwise, but On Nobody Left to Crown scary and magnificent are replaced by earnestness, and while there are
certainly moments of beauty, it’s just not enough to make up for the vacuum.

 

Standout Tracks: “Nobody Left to Crown,” “(Can’t You Hear) Zeus’s
Anger Roar” CHRISTIAN KIEFER

Paul Weller – Wild Wood Deluxe Edition [reissue]

January 01, 1970

(Yep Roc)

 

www.yeproc.com

 

 

 

Sometimes Deluxe/Legacy/Bad Muthahumpa editions don’t the original
work a favor; there’s a reason for its original incarnation, which is largely
responsible for its impact. Paul Weller’s second solo album is a start-to-finish
listening experience where each song builds on, or plays off, its antecedents.
The driving miss-you soul of “Sunflower” leads off, giving way to the sonically
similar, and bitingly relevant, “Can You Heal Us (Holy Man).” Then, Weller’s
spare empowerment anthem (title cut), before “Instrumental One (Pt. 1)” is
poised to, at least ostensibly, interrupt the roiling verve—but doesn’t.
Instead, the dreamy wah guitar, sleepy keys and Stax horns are a fitting
prelude to the wistful release “All the Pictures on the Wall.” And henceforth,
the humdingers—“Has My Fire Really Gone Out?,” “The Weaver,” “Moon On Your
Pyjamas”—keep coming, always spot-on and bolstered by whatever preceded it, even
instrumentals or a slight return (“Holy Man” is reprised as the penultimate
track).

 

Wild Wood just
works—probably because Weller walked into the studio possessed, with fully
formed songs in hand and head. Ironically, that’s where this fattened platter fails:
in illuminating Weller’s potency, they dilute it. Copious album track demos are
rough, dull diamonds compared to the brilliant final versions. The live stuff
(“Magic Bus” and “This Is No Time”) is just okay, and Portishead’s abysmal remix
of “Wild Wood” is an insult to a powerful song whose weight comes from its simplicity
and organicity—it didn’t need a fucking dance beat. Thankfully, some bonus
tracks are very good. The demos of “Changes” (blink and you’ll miss what it
became) and B-sides “Price to Pay,” “Love to the Loved,” and both the single
version and acoustic BBC exclusive of UK album track “Hung Up” are nicely
rendered.

 

Standout Tracks: “Wild
Wood,” “Sunflower” RANDY HARWARD

Pagans – The Blue Album

January 01, 1970

(Smog Veil Records)

 

www.smogveil.com

 

 

Formed in the industrial wasteland that was late-‘70s
Cleveland, the Pagans were the result of the same disturbing musical zeitgeist
that spawned the Dead Boys, Rocket From The Tombs and Pere Ubu. Although their
original run was short, but explosive – they first broke up in ’79 – the Pagans
have crawled back up out of the gutter more than once over the past 20 years,
always fronted by growling vocalist Mike Hudson and buzzsaw guitarist Mike
Metoff.

 

The Blue Album is
the result of one of those reunions, the Pagans captured live in some dive in Madison, Wisconsin
in ’88. The sound ain’t half-bad, considering the crude recording, and the
performance is the epitome of raw power: drunken, sloppy, and loud, with plenty
o’ feedback, distortion, attitude, and crackling energy. More than a mere
archival document, The Blue Album offers a balls-to-the-wall, first-gen punk-rock experience.

 

Standout Tracks: “Heart Of Stone,” “Us And All Our Friends Are So Messed
Up.” REV. KEITH A. GORDON 

Eddie Floyd – Eddie Loves You So

January 01, 1970

(Stax)

 

www.stax-records.com

 

Without Eddie Floyd there would be a three-minute gap in the
repertoire of almost every garage band that came of age in the last forty years.
With that distinctive horn riff so effectively adapted for guitar, “Knock On
Wood” was of a bunch with “Louie Louie”, “Gloria” and “In The Midnight Hour”
that any band wanting to get through a gymnasium or frat house gig absolutely
had to know. While “Knock On Wood” may be Floyd’s most well-know composition
(and hit single) he, often partnered with Steve Cropper, wrote big numbers for
almost every one of his fellow artists on the Stax label during his long tenure
there. Eddie’s back at Stax for the first time in 34 years and if the albums he
made for other labels during those years hadn’t been as good as they are it
wouldn’t be at all overstating to say that Eddie Floyd has made a spectacular
return to form.

 

There is something so sweet and mellow about the music
associated with Stax that, despite stylistic similarities, it is easily
distinguishable from the equally great and equally historic music from Atlantic and Motown in their glory years. It’s nice to
hear that whatever is in the air at Stax to facilitate or enhance the
satisfying warmth and funky thump that characterized its output is still in
abundant supply. Floyd, whose matured voice calls to mind classic R&B
crooners like Brook Benton rather than the soul shouters of the 1960s (of which
he was a great example) is on his game as both performer and composer with the
mix of old and new tunes that make up Eddie
Loves You So
.

 

“Knock On Wood” has been recorded so many times that it
would have been redundant even for Eddie to rework it again on record. Instead
we get a bang-up take on “You Don’t Know What You Mean To Me,” the
Floyd/Cropper tune which, in the industry parlance of the ‘60s, they “made a
hit on” with Sam and Dave. There’s also “You’re So Fine,” the first hit for The
Falcons — the group that included Floyd, Joe Stubbs (brother of the Four Tops
unmatchable Levi Stubbs) and Mack Rice (who wrote “Respect Yourself” and “In
The Midnight Hour” and could have stopped there but went on to write hits for Ike
and Tina Turner, Rufus Thomas, Etta James, The Rascals and fellow Falcon,
Wilson Pickett). Equally exquisite is the old school soul of “Consider Me and
“Since You Been Gone,” reminiscent of the underrated small masterpieces Curtis
Mayfield wrote for Major Lance.

 

Produced and mixed by guitarist Michael Dinallo, who
continues Cropper’s tradition of provided the right lick in the right place at
the right time, Eddie Loves You So is
one of a very few recent albums not recorded
by Solomon Burke or Al Green that’s perfect to play for “them what don’t know”
what the phrase “soul music” really means.

 

Are you listening, Miss Winehouse?

 

Standout Tracks: “Close To You,” “Since You Been Gone” RICK ALLEN

Windmill – Puddle City Racing Lights

January 01, 1970

(Friendly
Fire)

 

www.friendlyfirerecordings.com

 

 

 

There’s
a doomed romanticism running across these songs, as if Matthew Thomas Dillon
(aka Windmill) was the only living organism left in a dead-white plastic universe.
He is, not surprisingly, upset about this, his nervy, piccolo-sharp voice
raised in anguished protest of fluorescent lights, airport departure lounges
and plasticine earplugs. His voice is so razory, so unusual (though Wayne Coyne
is obviously a reference point) that it cuts through lush arrangements of piano
and strings and bangs right up against the limits of song.

 

Not
that there aren’t some great songs here. “Tokyo Moon”, up first and shockingly
good, could be the desperate ode to loneliness that Arcade Fire never had the
guts to make. “Asthmatic,” later on, prickles with piano and swells with
massive harmonies. It has the sheeny exuberance of an Evangelicals cut. These
tracks show that Dillon is best when he marshals all the elements of pop – big
choruses, group vocals, steady triumphant rhythms – into his angsty, alienated
compositions. “Jump out, jump in, jump out of your skin,” he exhorts in the
drum-banging, anthemic “Plastic Pre-Flight Seats,” the voice frayed with
feeling, the melody arching towards catharsis, and if you listen hard enough,
you almost do.

 

Standout Tracks: “Tokyo Moon”, “Asthmatic” “Plastic Pre Flight
Seats” JENNIFER KELLY

Portishead – Third

January 01, 1970

(Mercury/Island)

 

www.mercuryrecords.com

 

 

 

Portishead is back with their heaviest, darkest album yet.
Widely credited for bringing trip-hop to the mainstream with their 1994 debut Dummy and 1997’s self-titled follow-up, it
took more than a decade for their aptly titled Third to surface. Maybe you thought the UK trio was gone for good; turns
out they were just digging deeper into their brooding, moody mindset.

 

The music still has a film score quality to it, but one shot
in grainy black and white with lots of shadows and no resolution, just
disturbing questions. These tracks are built more naturally, with quicker
tempos and more guitars than in the past, but they still feature lots of minor-keys
brushing up against Beth Gibbons’ heavenly, even alien-esque vocals to create
amazing contrast. There’s very little light cracking through Geoff Barrow’s
beats, but Gibbons does usher in a peaceful reprise with “Deep Water” where
she’s backed by a single ukulele. From there we have the industrial, electro
percussion of “Machine Gun” that’s enough to make Aphex Twin blush, and the
disc-closing “Threads,” with its thick, opiated rhythms barely supporting
Gibbons’ lament of “I’m always so unsure.” It may have taken eleven years but
you can’t rush the kind of genius we find on Third.

 

Standout Tracks: “We
Carry On,” “Threads” AARON KAYCE

 

 

 

 

 

Ratatat – LP3

January 01, 1970

(XL)

 

www.xlrecordings.com

For an instrumental electronic-based band, especially one that remixes both hip-hop
classics and contemporaries such as Bjork, Ratatat shows a surprising respect
for concision. The obviously named LP3 from the New York duo of Mike Stroud and Evan Mast crams thirteen tracks into
just over 42 minutes, and a few of the best (dub reggae “Flynn”; the Eastern-flavored “Mumtaz Khan”) hover around the two-minute mark.

 

From a distance, LP3 works as engaging background music, interesting enough to focus on now and then
but unobtrusive enough not to be a distraction. Up close or through earphones,
it becomes a sampler in styles. “Mirando” blends reggae bass, Bollywood guitars,
fuzzed-out beats and a synth sound that could come from an ‘80s TV theme.
“Brulee” tricks out tropical bachelor pad nostalgia with shivery distortions. A
few tracks drift without reaching a destination, and sometimes it seems Ratatat
can’t choose between striving for the experimental wildness of, say, Battles
and the overt pop accessibility of Daft Punk. But listen closely and the middle
ground the band tills contains fertile details.

 

Standout Tracks: “Brulee,” “Mirando”
STEVE KLINGE

Milton Cross – Light in the West

January 01, 1970

(Digitalis Industries)

 

www.digitalisindustries.com

 

Milton Cross is the stage moniker of Tony Cross, member of
San Francisco (mostly) instrumental group Tarentel, and fans of that band will
understand immediately what Cross is doing with Light in the West—returning to Tarentel’s original pre-rhythm days
and creating a similarly veined mass of clanking bells and metal, droning
harmoniums, violins, and celli, and sparsely plucked guitars.

 

Sparse is the key term here, for even when the music reaches
its densest moments, it never totters over into the kind of post-rock lightning
that Tarentel has been reaching for in recent years.  Instead, Cross shuffles through a kind of gauzy
texture of bowed strings and distant clanking bells, most often eschewing
rhythm entirely and instead relying on a kind of organic ambience that mixes
with field recordings (in fact, the liner notes tell us that much of the
project was recorded in California’s
Marin Headlands).

 

Light in the West mines similar musical geography as improv-folk supergroup Badgerlore, Scott
Morgan’s Loscil project (especially his Submers)
release, and, perhaps most importantly, the Michael Krassner-led Boxhead
Ensemble.  All of these groups work the
rich vein between melody and improvisation and they all do so with a sense of
clarity and vision that that makes for great and cohesive albums.  Milton Cross’ Light in the West is on par with the best of those and it stands as
one of the very best—and here comes it’s logical genre—improvised ambient field
recording folk projects released to today.  Bravo Milton Cross.  Bravo,
indeed.

 

Standout Tracks:
“It’s Been Almost a Year,” “Light in the West Where It Will Always Be Morning”
CHRISTIAN KIEFER

Fucked Up – Year of the Pig [reissue]

January 01, 1970

(Matador)

 

www.matadorrecords.com

 

Fucked Up is probably the best punk band with national
distribution 2008 has to offer. The incendiary Canadians built a reputation on
limited-run EPs and contrarian aesthetics, but entered the indie-public’s
consciousness with the 2006 release of Hidden
World
on Jade Tree. But despite the lengthy average duration of its songs, Hidden World, sounded pretty
straightforward. It never got boring, but it never pushed too far, either.

 

Enter “Year of the Pig,” title track to a 2007 12” single.
The 18-and-a-half minute suite blends Jennifer Castle’s calm, childlike vocals
with Pink Eyes’ phlegm-gurgling growls; smoldering, suspended riffs with scathing
distortion; plodding marches with surging rhythmic rushes. And sequenced as the
opener for Matador’s repackaging of the single with its seven-inch edits from
the US, UK and Japan, plus one new song (“Mustaa Lunta”), “Year of The Pig”
becomes not only a true epic song, but ties the record together by reprising
itself between tracks to create a sometimes confounding, always exhilarating 44
minutes of punk rock. Original b-side “The Black Hats” pushes its elastic
rhythms through a dense mat of interwoven guitars. A low-rent Ramones
melodicism and Pink Eyes’ snotty grumblings cast “Anorak
City” as a seedier “Rockaway Beach.”
And Year of the Pig (2008) becomes a
powerful, lasting entry in the punk and indie rock canons.

 

Standout Tracks: “Year of the Pig,” “The Black Hats,” “Anorak City”
BRYAN REED

Snow & Voices – What the Body Was Made For

January 01, 1970

(Elastic Ruby)

 

 www.snowandvoices.com

 

 

Working as a keyboardist for Aimee Mann and Fiona Apple,
Jebin Bruni must have sensed a kindred spirit in singer Lauri Kranz’s spacey,
introspectively fragile voice. Thus, Snow & Voices was born in L.A. and a 2004 album was
released. Now, with the two writing (almost) all the songs and Bruni and
Darrell Thorp sharing production duties, comes a follow-up.

 

On first listen,
the record exudes a waftingly sweet, keyboard-tinged and drum-programmed
melancholy that seems exactly what the duo wants with its shades of Beth Orton,
Lamb and Portishead. But it’s too sweet; songs like “Hearts Were Meant to Be
Broken” and “Water” on repeated hearing are all prettiness with no bite. And
overall, the record sounds too New Agey, especially Bruni’s keyboards.
“Rainstorm” makes the most impact; it’s spare in both production and lyrical
imagery. Inexplicably, the album includes a trance cover of the Doors’ “Touch
Me,” a song best put to eternal rest anyway. It makes one wonder if Snow &
Voices has a real aesthetic or is just looking for a niche sound.

 

Standout Tracks: “Rainstorm,” “A Little Strange” STEVEN ROSEN