Monthly Archives: August 2008

Clouds – We Are Above You

January 01, 1970

(Hydra Head)

 

www.hydrahead.com

 

“Slow Day” is the embodiment of
what Clouds tries to do – a third of the time. Flowing off a sinuous melody,
guitars wisp and wind like streams of silver-blue smoke from a stick of
incense. The psychedelic hypnosis trudges slowly and ominously, but brightens
its corners with enough melody to stay engaging.

 

Elsewhere on the album, the
band seems unsure of what it wants to be. “Empires In Basements” opens the
album with a crusty riff-rock anthem not far removed from a less uptight Danzig, but soon gives way to the piano-driven bar-rock
of “The Bad Seat,” “Slow Day”‘s psychedelic impulses and the Earth A.D.-style thrash of
“Horrorfication” and “Year Zero.” Fortunately, even at its worst, the band is
competent with whatever style it tries on. Clouds just hasn’t learned to fuse
its stylistic influences together, making We
Are Above You
a jumbled, even if enjoyable, album. The only constant here
is volume-which is more than amply provided. Each facet of the band-the
riff-rocker, the stoner and the hardcore kid-is equally loud, but the stylistic
separation doesn’t lend itself to a superlative recording.

 

Standout Tracks: “Slow Day,” “Year Zero” BRYAN REED

 

Live From Austin TX

January 01, 1970

(New West)

 

www.newwestrecords.com

 

Considering the fact that her weary palette has made each of
her three albums an ongoing exercise in overwrought emotion, the prospect of a
live DVD from Norah Jones doesn’t promise much in the way of an eye – or, for
that matter, an ear — opening experience. 
Which is all the more reason why this performance, taped in the
respected confines of Austin City Limits and issued as part of New West’s
superb series bearing the same name, is truly so surprising.  Recorded in June of last year, it finds
Jones’ solemn soundscapes so emboldened and so ignited, it completely dismisses
any notions that would lead to lowered expectations.

 

Those surprises are evident even at the outset.  Jones disposes of “Come Away With Me” for her
first number rather than holding it as the inevitable encore, shifting its
stance away from a smoky barroom ballad while reinventing it as a loose and
limber back porch ramble.  It becomes the
ideal set-up for all that follows, as Jones nimbly adapts to Austin’s Americana
environs by creating a spellbinding synthesis of musical templates, one that
makes any distinction between her sensual cocktail jazz and a truly authentic
down home embrace all but indistinguishable. 
What’s more, she does it without relying on her most credible claim to
country, the take on Hank Williams’ “Cold, Cold Heart” included on her debut.

 

The revelations don’t end there, either.  While her recordings are dappled with a
low-lit glow, here her music radiates with rich textures and stunning detail,
thanks to her deft piano playing and a superb backing band that accentuates
every passage with craft and precision. 
From the sassy swagger of “Sinkin’ Soon” (with guest J. Walter Hawkes
playing what sounds like a talking trumpet!) to the caress and croon of
“Thinking About You and “Be My Somebody,” the music’s never less than
mesmerizing.  If she sometimes seems aloof
on record, her onstage persona, though not necessarily animated, still rises
above that quiet reserve.  Even guest M
Ward — a performer also known for a downcast demeanor – is shaken from his
stupor, infusing their gentle duets on country classics “Hands on the Wheel”
and “Blue Bayou” with a genuinely compelling connection.  By the time she reaches her final number – a
much-anticipated “Don’t Know Why” – Jones has her audience completely
enthralled.

 

It’s clear, then, that to witness her live is to experience
Jones at her best.  Suffice it to say
it’s even better than hoped for.   

 

Standout tracks: “Come
Away With Me,” “Thinking About You,” “Sinkin’ Soon” LEE ZIMMERMAN

 

 

 

Cordero – De Donde Eres

January 01, 1970

(Bloodshot)

 

www.bloodshotrecords.com

 

The title for the fifth long-player from this Brooklyn-based
quartet can translate into the interrogatory “where are you from,” and the
question seems mostly directed inward. Forgoing some of the tense indie rock of
Cordero’s recent discs En Este Momento or Lamb Lost In the City, singer Ani
Cordero digs deep into her Puerto Rican heritage, exploring the most
straightforward Latin songs and beats the band has yet to record. For the first
time, too, the songs are all sung in Spanish, but it goes deeper than that.

 

Disc-opener “Quique” is an up-tempo dance number, all deep rhythms,
organ washes, and pumped-up bass-lines in keeping with a sweltering San Juan
evening; “La Yuega” is accordion-accented Cuban son, while the Spanish
guitar-and-maracas of “El Arco Iris” features a mixed samba/bossa nova beat. Occasionally
you feel caught between two competing worlds, though not because of what Rock En Espanol aficionados might deem
cultural prejudice; mostly it’s that the band’s straight-up indie rock here
(“La Musica Es La Medicina,” “Fin Del Mundo”) reads very ordinary, in turn heightens
the exotica attached to the songs with a Latin sensibility.

 

Two of the best moments come when the band melds both worlds
into something that winds up favoring neither, such as when the brass boosts
the Calexico-guitars of “Abre La Ventana,” or bowed bass haunts the melancholic
“Guardasecretos.” Otherwise, it’s the traditional sounds here that most
impress. The record whips past at long-EP speed (just over half-an-hour),
suggesting what feels like a trial balloon as Cordero determines not so much
where they’re from, but where they’re going.

 

Standout
Tracks:
“Quique,” “Abre La Ventana” JOHN SCHACHT

 

Jeff Hanson – Madam Owl

January 01, 1970

(Kill Rock Stars)

 

www.killrockstars.com

 

To repeat a comment frequently made by those who encounter
Jeff Hanson for the first time: this dude sounds like a lady.  With due credit to Aerosmith, nothing’s
closer to the truth, and it speaks to Hanson’s continuing misfortune that
that’s all anyone focuses on, at least during an initial encounter.

 

Hanson’s not going to shake that impression this third time
out, and one still wonders what spurs his feminine phrasing.  However, the loveliness of Hanson’s material
demands a closer listen, given the nimble folk-finesse imbued in each of these
offerings. With strings and the steady strum of an acoustic guitar providing
quiet accompaniment, Hanson’s voice melds assurance and affirmation to a
subdued set of songs.  The gentle ramble
of “Night,” the combination of baroque orchestration and supple ambiance
gracing “Your Only Son” and the meditative glance of “Maryann” and “Nothing
Would Matter At All” create a salve for the senses. Skeptics can be assured
he’s not another emasculated emo type prone to a perpetual downward glance –
although admittedly, songs like “Wrong Again and “No Never Mind” could argue
otherwise — but rather an artist more prone to optimistic assessment, albeit
it with a dewy eyed, heavy lidded gaze. 

 

“I wonder what I can do for a living/Something that makes
you all proud/But won’t keep me up at night,” he muses on “Nothing Would Matter
At All.”  If Madam Owl is any indication, he can doze off and feel
reassured. 

 

Standout Tracks: “Night” “The Hills,” “Wrong Again” LEE ZIMMERMAN

 

 

 

Kasai Allstars – In the 7th moon, the chief turned into a swimming fish and ate the head of his enemy by magic

January 01, 1970

(Crammed
Discs)

 

www.crammed.be

 

Three
(or four) albums into the “Congotronics” series, observers might well
wonder if the genre amounts to more than one group. The first release featured
the hypnotic Konono No. 1, and the second was a compilation dominated by the
same Kinshasa
collective, which runs clinking thumb pianos (likembes) through transcendently
cruddy-sounding amps. Those CDs were followed by a live album, not technically
a “Congotronics” release, by none other than Konono No. 1.

 

Now
arrives an album by Kasai Allstars, also heard on the Congotronics 2
collection. This reportedly 25-person ensemble — 19 musicians are credited
here — is rooted in the same musics as Konono No. 1, and updates the likembes,
xylophones, drums and call-and-response vocals with electric guitars.

 

Wordily
titled In the 7th moon, the chief turned
into a swimming fish and ate the head of his enemy by magic
, the 70-minute
set is plenty trancey, but not especially ‘tronic. Indeed, subtract the guitars
and some occasional distortion, and the music sounds closer to its roots than
most recent Afropop.

 

Understandably,
the disc is front-loaded with tracks most likely to appeal to fans of the
previous Congotronics releases. Such dense, incantatory numbers as “Quick
as White” and “Kafuulu Balu” are knockouts, combining the
urgency of ancient ritual with the textural surprises that result from plugging
the traditional into the modern.

 

Yet
such other pieces as “Beyond the 7th Moon,” an unelectrified
instrumental, could have been recorded generations ago. That’s interesting, but
only moderately so; lots of African trance music is already available from
ethno-musicology specialists. The Kasai Allstars are only halfway Congotronic,
but that’s the more interesting half.

 

Standout Tracks: “Quick as
White,” “Kafuulu Balu” MARK JENKINS

 

 

 

Digital Leather – Sorcerer

January 01, 1970

(Goner)

 

www.goner-records.com

 

The Goner Records label is usually known for down ‘n’ dirty
rock and roll.  Proud of its Memphis roots I figured
the last thing they’d want to release would be a spazzy electronic record, but
ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce Digital Leather.

 

Basically the work of one, Shawn Foree, who hails from Arizona, he apparently
has a slew of singles and LPs floating around. Sorcerer sets the tone from the opener, the wired and weird slunk
of “Stimulator” which is enough to make your hair stand on end. On
“Hologram” they chant that word over and over atop a sinister
sounding keyboard, while “Perfect Copy” sounds more like ‘80s oddball
new wave. The 2nd half of the record was recorded live and includes the bands’
anthem (or what should be their anthem) on the closing “Black Flowers from
the Future.” Fried electric socket rock never sounded so beautiful.

 

Standout Tracks:  “Hologram,” “Black Flowers
from the Future” TIM HINELY

 

 

Motörhead – Motörizer

January 01, 1970

(Steamhammer Records/SPV Music)

 

www.spv.de

 

 

 

Just one question: why isn’t Motörhead in the Rock &
Roll Hall of Fame? If there was ever a band that epitomizes the road warrior
ethic, a lifelong dedication to the rock & roll muse, it’s this gang.

 

Motörhead’s 24th album, Motörizer provides another good argument for the band’s ticket to Cleveland. These songs don’t just sit there
on the slab o’ plastic like some stinkin’ corpse, they leap out of your
speakers with bloodlust, a knife in their teeth and evil on today’s “to
do” list. Lemmy’s liquor-soaked metal-blues growl is complimented by
Filthy Phil’s napalm-strength fretwork, while drummer Mikkey Dee delivers a
good old-fashioned mugging. Songs like the pub-rocking “English Rose”
or the brutal “Buried Alive” are landmines itching to trigger,
displaying a mix of punk attitude and metallic overkill. Motörizer is a hellbound train, with Lemmy K at the helm… hold on
for the ride of your life!

 

Standout Tracks: “English Rose,” “Teach You How To Sing The Blues” REV.
KEITH A. GORDON

 

Doveman – Footloose

January 01, 1970

(Brassland Music)

 

www.brassland.org

 

In some ways, death is the same for us all.  It equalizes us as human beings, sending us
to our knees in anguish and despair and despite the constancy of death around
us we are so often bereft of the ability to understand it. 

 

One assumes that it was much the same for Gabriel Greenburg
when, as a young child, his teenage sister died tragically.  There must have been years of confusion at
her absence and as he grew up, illustrating some album covers for his friend
Thomas Bartlett and entering graduate school, he continued to hold the small
cup of loss that had entered him the moment that his sister had departed.

 

Then he discovered one of his sister’s old cassette tapes:
the soundtrack to the 1984 film Footloose.  It was like a key that opened his sister’s
world to him.  As Greenburg himself
writes: “I couldn’t stop listening: it was a portrait of 80’s love, desire,
pain, freedom, and frenzy; of being a teenager in a time of change.”

 

Greenburg asked his friend Thomas Bartlett-aka Doveman-to
rerecord the entire album.  Perhaps it
was a way to re-envision his sister’s life, to bring it somehow into his own
life, to bring her back to him in some way that was useful or significant.

 

Barlett did re-record the album-all of it-and it is
something to behold, particularly when one considers the source material.  1984 was a year that the pop charts were
dominated by names like Culture Club, Phil Collins, Lionel Richie, and Duran
Duran.  Footloose represented the big money studio dreck that had come to
dominate the culture machines of the entire decade.  The fertile mid-1980s underground was
burbling somewhere deep under the surface but if one tuned in the radio one
only heard Kenny Loggins’ irritating yelp about, of all things, the need to
dance.  The Replacements’ Let It Be, the Minutemen’s Double Nickles on the Dime, and Hüsker
Dü’s Zen Arcade all appeared in 1984
as well, but what role could they play in Reagan’s America except as
reactionary material to exactly the kind of mainstream fodder that Footloose represented.   What other position was possible for art?

 

Having made that point, it must also be acknowledged-nay
admitted!-that despite this writer’s obvious snake hatred of the mainstream
culture he grew up in, it’s undeniable that those songs do have a tidal pull on
his soul.  It’s likely this way for many
of us: Good or bad, the mainstream music of our teen years forms the backdrop
to much of our lives regardless of our desire to have it be otherwise.  So many high school dances with blaring top
40 music we despised, knowing all the while that our claims that we abstained
from dancing (or from attending at all) because the music was so awful was
merely a feeble excuse for a serious lack of teenage courage.

 

What Doveman does with this material is something akin to an
reinterpretation via outsider art (even though Bartlett himself is an in-demand
session keyboardist; far from being an outsider to the music scene).  His voice is a high, warbly creature just on
the verge of being out of key but never actually dropping, much like Mark
Linous’ breathy quietude on his Sparklehorse albums.  With Doveman, Bartlett’s breathing is nearly as
loud as the singing itself and the end result is a breathy, lo-fi tenderness
that might drive the listener to want to put on the pumping dance music of the
original just to get the blood flowing again.

 

The listener might want to do that, but he or she likely
won’t because Bartlett, somehow, manages to pull it off.  With Loggins’ title track he takes the lyrics
and dispenses entirely with the music, reimagining the song as a sad piano
ballad, a form that works amazingly well and accomplishes much of what Mark
Kozelek does with his reimagining of AC/DC classics as slow folk ballads.   In fact, the tempo throughout the album is
slow, but there are enough instance of drums and rhythm and occasional blasts
of noise to keep things interesting, case in point, “The Girl Gets Around,”
originally recorded by Sammy Hagar for the soundtrack, which Bartlett has
turned into a Chris Whitley-style dirge grind.

 

The best covers (if that’s what these are) accomplish what
Doveman seems to do with ease: revealing the hidden beauty of the source
material, uncovering something new about a song or a melody or a lyric,
bringing something new to the listener’s ears. 
If that can be accomplished with source material that the listener has
heard hundreds of times, that’s quite an accomplishment, and especially so if
the listener actively dislikes the original (which I imagine to be the case for
many, many contemporary listeners of Footloose).  The breathy tenderness might not be every
listener’s cup of tea; consider yourself warned.

 

The best part of the story is that the album is not for
sale.  Doveman and his label Brassland
have been offering it as a free download until quite recently when they
received a cease and desist order, proof that the major labels still behave
much as they did back in 1984 (Sony Is Watching You!) but you can still hear
the whole thing as a stream at www.dovemanmusic.com.  Do so before it’s gone.

 

Standout Tracks: “Footloose,” “The Girl Gets Around” CHRISTIAN KIEFER

 

Rodriguez – Cold Fact [reissue]

January 01, 1970

(Light In the Attic)

 

www.lightintheattic.net

 

When Detroit’s Sixto
Rodriguez issued his debut album for the Sussex label in 1970 he wasn’t
planning on being a cult artist to be revered in later years by crate diggers
and collectors of outsider psychedelia, rock and folk. But like so many other
artists of his era, industry vicissitudes and an inability to properly promote himself deep-sixed Cold Fact and its 1971 successor Coming From Reality, and he retreated from the business to raise
and support a family.

 

Crate diggers and collectors, of course, usually know best,
as this handsome new reissue, complete with a massive 36-page booklet detailing
the man’s odd trajectory, demonstrates in spade. In just 12 songs and 32
minutes Rodriguez – singing in a slightly reedy but ultimately warm voice that
recalls, variously, Dylan, Arthur Lee, Donovan and even Neil Diamond – touches
on everything from proto-freak folk (“Sugar Man”) and fuzzed-out hard psych
(“Only Good for Conversation”) to modal-tinged folk-rock (“Hate Street
Dialogue”) and jaunty blues-rock (“Inner City Blues” – not the Marvin Gaye
song, more Dylanesque, but with subtle orchestration in the background).

 

Lyrically, too, the brother’s right on the money, pointing
in strikingly poetic terms an unwavering finger at assorted ills of the day,
including dope pushers, hedonism seekers, politicians and protesters alike, and
the illusion that the rich are somehow more significant than the rest of us.
Boasting innovative arrangements that serve the songs while giving them
repeated-listen heft and featuring the musical backing of a number of Detroit’s
who’s-who players (including Motown session guitarist Dennis Coffey, who
co-produced with Mike Theodore), Cold
Sweat
‘s sonic charms linger just long enough in the mind to find their way
to your mainline.

 

Cold Fact has seen
CD (frequently bootleg) reissue numerous times in the past – Australia, 1986 and 1993; South Africa, 1991, 2002 and 2005; Europe, 1998 – and each time it’s sparked a Rodriguez
mini-revival of sorts. After a journalist tracked the songwriter down in the
mid ‘90s and he learned that the album had achieved significantly more than
cult status (it had gone platinum in South Africa), he found himself
touring those markets and was even the subject of a documentary. Will the
American buying public be similarly tweaked and treated to some of Rodriguez
concert magic? Stay tuned – but grab this aesthetically pure, sonically
compelling, lyrically arresting platter, because it’s a classic in every since.
And that’s a stone cold fact.

 

Standout Tracks: “Sugar Man,” “Crucify Your Mind” FRED MILLS

 

 

 

I See Hawks In L.A. – Hallowed Ground

January 01, 1970

(Big Book Records)

 

www.bigbookrecords.com

 

 

It’s sort of surprising that I See Hawks In L.A., the
Southern California country-rock band, not only has lasted to its fourth album but
has won a devoted following as the region’s best such act. There is, after all,
one heck of a lot of competition. And lead singer Rob Waller has a
monochromatic voice that is borderline monotonous. Plus the band’s sound is
such a throwback to its predecessors, the Burritos and New Riders, that it’s
hard to get excited, despite the excellent playing, colored by pedal-steel and
fiddle.

 

But this band’s secret is idiosyncratically unusual
songwriting. Waller and guitarist Paul Lacques write like hip university
professors, or post-countercultural novelists, and their lyrics are fascinating
and full of provocative ideas, a rarity in rock.

 

“Yolo
Country Airport”
is a cool, dramatic song about flying home as potential superstars. “Carbon
Dated Love,” an existentialist, epiphanous tale about two hikers becoming one
with nature, is a marvel of imagist detail. “Environment Children of the
Future,” a ballad, balances sincerity about ecological awareness among young
people with a killer “yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah” chorus. The apocalyptic rocker
“Ever Since the Grid Went Down” imagines being forced to live “like an honest
man” – it’s meant ironically – in order to survive a societal collapse. A
detour into Celtic music is ill-advised and the production by Lacques could be
more forceful. But this is one fascinating band.

 

Standout Tracks: “Carbon Dated Love,” “Ever Since the Grid Went Down” STEVEN ROSEN