Monthly Archives: September 2008

It Still Moves: Lost Songs, Lost Highways, and the Search for the Next American Music

January 01, 1970

(Faber & Faber)

 

www.fsgbooks.com

 

It’s practically in the job description now that rock
critics visit the music’s southern birth cradles and return, Moses-like, with a
book full of rumination and contextualization. At first glance, Amanda
Petrusich’s It Still Moves wouldn’t
seem to offer much new, since we’ve already read all about Robert Johnson, the
Carter Family, Elvis Presley and Woody Guthrie in seminal texts from Robert Gordon,
Nick Tosches, Greil Marcus, and Peter Guralnick, among others.

 

But through 18 months of hard-core road tripping and scores
of interviews, a voracious reading list, and heartfelt affinity for the wildly
varied music called Americana,
the Pitchforkmedia.com staff writer has performed the overdue service of
connecting the dots into the present (Peter Doggett’s Are You Ready for the Country did a decent job through the
alt-country era).  Most significant is
her understanding that, contrary to rigid doctrinaires of all stripes and eras,
the bloodlines of Johnson, the Carters, and Guthrie still course in new and
intriguing ways through contemporary music, embodied in the DNAs of Freakwater,
Will Oldham, Califone, Iron & Wine, Devendra Banhart, and scores of others.

 

But that’s just a barstool argument without Petrusich’s personable,
New Journalism prose style and reporting skills. Whether she’s worrying over a
Bear Family box set in her beat-up Honda or contemplating the slippery
definition of “authenticity” (Americana’s holy grail and white whale); rolling through
Mississippi crossroads or drinking pints with Freak Folkers in Vermont;
interviewing the decorator of Cracker Barrel (turns out those wall-baubles are not mass-produced) or trolling through
the Smithsonian Folkways archives; or just lamenting the hipster-fication of
her own Brooklyn neighborhood, Petrusich exhibits the great reporter’s knack
for capturing the telling details.

 

You come away from It
Still Moves
with abundant proof that appropriation — however obvious,
devious, or oblivious — isn’t just flattery, it’s how music retains its
vitality and seductive power; the best add their own take on tradition,
spinning songs out into ever-new territories. For anyone who’s ever had their
heartstrings plucked by a lonesome pedal steel or banjo, as well as those who
think Animal Collective or Joanna Newsome sprung fully formed from the ether, Petrusich’s
journey is also yours. JOHN SCHACHT

 

 

[Photo Credit: Bret Stetka]

 

Fujiya and Miyagi – Lightbulbs

January 01, 1970

(Full Time Hobby)

 

www.fulltimehobby.co.uk

 

 

If you are not
familiar with Fujiya and Miyagi, let’s first clarify; they are neither Japanese
nor a duo of individuals who bear these names. Why would you draw that
conclusion? In fact, Fujiya and Miyagi is a British quartet of English singing,
dance-music-making gents who bring a level of lightness to the electronic music
scene. For their sophomore album, Fujiya and Miyagi continue their quirky
lyrics and sometimes downright silly track titles. Yet, the redeeming factor to
this equation is how Fujiya and Miyagi maintain an undeniable charm as they woo
listeners with great their beats.

 

 

The result, an
upbeat and fun album sure to get you dancing as you’ll find yourself singing
those same harebrained words. As with their first single “Knickerbocker,” wherein
singer David Best calmly whispers “vanilla, strawberry, knickerbocker, glory.” Nonetheless,
like 2007 debut Transparent Things, Fujiya and Miyagi again concoct catchy
riffs and have assembled another excellent album that will indeed spark a fire
under those two left feet.

 

 

Standout Tracks: “Uh,” “Dishwasher” APRIL S. ENGRAM

 

Theresa Andersson – Hummingbird, Go!

January 01, 1970

(Basin Street)

 

www.basinstreetrecords.com

 

Even for New Orleans, which
with its myriad musical hybrids is arguably the birthplace of the mashup, the
notion seems improbable: marrying contemporary Swedish indiepop to Crescent City traditionalism. And though Swede
expat/N’awlins resident Theresa Andersson tilts more in the direction of the
former than the latter, there’s an undeniable earthiness and primal power on Hummingbird, Go! that you won’t find on,
say, offerings from Lykke Li, Peter Moren (of Peter Bjorn and John), Jens
Lekman or El Perro Del Mar (just to name a handful of Swedish musicians – all
good, incidentally – with recent, heavily hyped releases). That she created the
album entirely in her own kitchen and played 99% of the instruments is all the
more impressive. (Swedish producer Tobias Froberg helped oversee the project to
the end, additionally playing Rhodes piano on
a couple of tracks; a handful of other musicians make brief appearances, but
for the most part its all Andersson.)

 

From the very start, you sense you’re in the presence of
something special: opening track “Na Na Na,” with its strings, Calexico-like
percussion and guitars, quickened-pulse beat and buoyantly keening vocals (Tori
Amos meets Joan Osborne), is one of those insta-anthems that sticks in your
mind after a single listen. “Birds Fly Away” finds Andersson subtly channeling
Motown soul – Duffy, watch your back – against a Brill Building-styled sixties
girl-group arrangement. Hold that thought: the following track is a 43-second
sha-la-la doo-woppy ditty cheekily called “Introducing the Kitchenettes.” Those
falsetto warbling Kitchenettes also handle backing vocals on the
Feist-goes-to-Hawaii “Hi-Low.” Meanwhile, a real guest singer (as opposed to a chorus of Anderssons) turns up on the album’s
genuine take-your-breath away track: “Innan du Gar,” sung in Swedish, is a duet
with Ane Brune, the two ladies so sonically simpatico as to be siblings, the
tune itself a heavenly meditation born aloft on a part-neoclassical,
part-Japanese melody for violin and guitar. An Asian vibe also surfaces in the
ethereal-but-edgy “Locusts Are Gossiping,” which at times suggests Kate Bush
performing with a Memphis
gospel choir. And “Japanese Art,” despite the title, it has no discernible
Asian flavoring, sounds like a back porch hoedown performed by klezmer and jazz
artists.

 

Starting to get the picture? Andersson’s not as
schizophrenic as the foregoing perhaps makes it sound, however. But you can
just tell that she’s bursting at the seams to get a lot out of her system, and
there’s probably no better place on earth to live than New Orleans for a musically restless soul
with hybridization in her blood. She moved to the city in 1990 at the age of 18
and since then has worked with the Radiators and fellow singer-songwriter Anders
Osborne as well as fronting the occasional band and issuing four solo records
of a primarily blues and jazz nature. Working all by her lonesome in her
kitchen, however, seems to have allowed Andersson to really focus and bring to
the surface the disparate influences and styles checked off above. It’s worth
noting her DIY instrumental ingenuity as well: on a number of tracks all is not
what it appears to be, including the vibraphone (actually tapped drink bottles
containing different levels of liquid) on “Waltz” and the slide guitar (wrong!
– it’s her oddly-tuned violin) on “Hi-Low.” She’s even been performing as a
one-woman band of late, employing pedals, loops and percussion in what’s been
described by critics as “little masterpieces of functional choreography.” Don’t
miss her if you get the chance to see her, and meanwhile, put your sugar feeder
out for this Hummingbird.

 

Standout Tracks: “Na
Na Na,” “Locusts Are Gossiping,” “Innan du Gar” FRED MILLS

 

Laura Nyro – Season Of Lights… Laura Nyro In Concert + Nested [reissues]

January 01, 1970

(Iconoclassic)

www.iconoclassicrecords.com

 

The first and only live album recorded during her relatively
brief lifetime, Laura Nyro’s Season Of
Lights
was part of a stylistic transition that shifted her sound from
solitary to celebratory.  Nyro’s early
albums helped established her as one of the most reliable songwriters of the
late ‘60s and early ‘70s, having penned such hits as “Wedding Bell Blues,”
“Stoney End,” “Eli’s Coming” and “And When I Die” for the Fifth Dimension,
Barbara Streisand, Three Dog Night, and Blood Sweat and Tears,
respectively.  Her own takes on those
compositions proved more intimate and affecting, rendered as stripped down,
confessional ballads that etched her reputation as one of the most thoughtful
artists of that era.

 

In 1975, Nyro released Smile,
an album that initialed a shift in her stance. 
It eschewed her earlier pensive approach for more effusive arrangements
which veered towards jazz and pop, retracing a route similar to that taken by
Joni Mitchell and Carole King before her. 
It was only natural, then, that when she opted to tour in order to tout
that album on the road, she’d surround herself with musicians that could help
her realize the more elaborate arrangements. 
Drummer Andy Newmark, guitarist John Tropea, vibes player Michael
Mainieri and bassist Richard Davis were at the helm of this impressive
ensemble, providing an effective embellishment to Seasons Of Lights, the live album that resulted from that tour. 

 

While its original 1977 release provided several memorable
moments, it also excised several songs and some extended musical passages when
the original idea of a double disc was scrapped in favor of issuing it as a
single album.  The fledgling Iconoclassic
label revisits these recordings, adding six tracks (“Sweet Lovin’ Baby,” “The
Morning News,” “I Am The Blues,” “Smile,” “Mars” and “Timer”) and the
instrumental outflow from two others, “Captain St. Lucifer” and “The Cat Song.”
  The result is a more complete
encapsulation of Nyro’s performance prowess, an album that rivals Mitchell’s
stunning Miles of Aisles in terms of
its jazz/rock synthesis.  The easy,
breezy groove of “And When I Die,” “When I Was a Freeport and You Were the Main Drag,” “Smile”
and “Sweet Blindness” transforms these tracks with an effusive exuberance only
hinted at in their original renditions. “Who? Who am I? I am the blues,” she
proclaims on the aforementioned song of the same name.   Ironically, that may be the only
disingenuous moment on the entire LP.

 

Nested emerged as a natural successor when it first appeared a year later, a set of
songs that further emphasized Nyro’s reliance on a more soulful and spiritual
stance.  Lush and sensual, and boasting
its own superb cast of supporting players (John Sebastian and Felix Cavaliere,
among them), it proved an impressive mesh of imagery and expression, its songs’
subjects focused on her romantic relationships, pending motherhood and a
worldly embrace.   Still, despite the album’s rich, sensual
sound, Nyro’s inward gaze blunted its overall appeal.  Best described as a set of multi-textured mood
music, its melodies were rather diffuse given its dearth of reliable refrains.  Listening to this reissue does little to
dissuade that notion, especially given the fact that the new edition isn’t
bolstered by any bonus material. 

 

Sadly, Nyro died in 1997 from ovarian cancer, the same
disease that claimed her mother.  Hopefully,
then, these two albums will help expose her artistry for those who may be unawares,
and bring back fond memories for the many fans she left behind.

 

Standout
Tracks:
“Mr. Blue (The Song of Communications),” “And When I Die,”
“Captain St. Lucifer” LEE ZIMMERMAN

 

UNKLE – End Titles…Stories for Film

January 01, 1970

(Surrender All)

 

www.unkle.com

 

 

Unlike James Lavelle’s wrong-n-rocking recent War Stories, UNKLE’s latest release
culls from and was created for things cinematic: soundtracks and commercials
for BMW ads, Spike Jonze’s skate videos and documentaries about Abel Ferrera.
That’s pretty good. War Stories sucked long thick wang and any time Lavelle does chunk-out rockishly (ala “Cut
Me Loose” and “Blade in the Back” here) you want to slap him with a fish.

 

That said, there’re dramatic floating musics to be found
within (“Against the Grain”) and as well as buoyant horny instrumentals (“24 Frames”). So End Titles is good; OK. And while I’m
not a man who wants his heroes to rehash their greatest moments, it’d be nice
to hear Lavelle truck backwards to find it franticly cut funk mien. If but for
a second.

 

Standout Tracks: “Trouble in Paradise (Variation On A Theme)”
“Against the Grain” A.D. AMOROSI

 

Donnie Fritts – One Foot In The Groove

January 01, 1970

(Leaning Man Records)

 

www.donniefritts.com

 

Over the years, as an integral and original part of the Muscle Shoals music
scene, Donnie Fritts has played drums and keyboards with Arthur Alexander,
Spooner Oldham and Kris Kristofferson and put his compositions in the hands of
those pros as well as the likes of Ray Charles, Willie Nelson and Percy Sledge.
In 2001 he was recovering from kidney replacement surgery and, responding to a
friend who asked how he was doing, he still had enough gumption to respond with
the phrase that became the title of this album.

 

One Foot In The Groove is a labor of love and necessity – most
musicians don’t have much in the way of health insurance – put together by
Fritts Oldham, Mike Dillion (Ani  DiFranco), Muscle Shoals veteran
players  David Hood, N.C. Thurman,  Kelvin Holly, Scott Boyer and
writer/singer/producer and Fritts’ longtime friend, Dan Penn. Most of the songs
were written by Fritts in collaboration with Boyer, Penn, Oldham,
Tony Joe White and others and the album is true to its word. This is real good
country soul that shows why Fritts was such a good source of material for those
like Alexander, Charles and Tony Joe who trod, maybe even eradicated, the line
between country and soul music.

 

 

Fritts sings in a voice that is a little Leon Russell and a little Tony Joe
and it’s a pleasing baritone swamp growl that doesn’t at all sound like it’s
coming from a man for whom trips through the wringer have become regular
events. There’s not enough of this kind of music being made these days. It’s
good to have Donnie Fritts around to do it and do it well.

 

Standout Tracks: “Across the Pontchartrain”, “One
Foot In The Groove” RICK ALLEN

 

 

 

 

 

Bomb The Bass – Future Chaos

January 01, 1970

(!K7)

 

www.k7-de.com

 

 

Twenty-one years after acid house, “Beat Dis,” and a history
of productions and remixes including Bowie, Bjork, Neneh Cherry and U2 comes
Tim Simenon’s newest idea of what Bomb The Bass should be. This time (but not
the first time) it’s a rockers’ paradise filled with samples-less electro-soul
and languorous moody passages that come off as similar to the swoopy synth
thing he made with Depeche Mode.

 

That’s not so bad. Hell, it’s better than the imitation that
She Wants Revenge seems hell-belt on executing. Simenon keeps the music bloopy
and somber. Singer Paul Conboy is a pleasant sounding chap and he makes the
quiet whirr-squiggle-thump of “Smog” and “Hold Me Up” fine-oh-fine with his
gently winded croon. And while guests like Fujiya & Miyagi swing through
the cool breeze of Future Chaos on
the broom of slightly sparer but kinkier “Butterfingers,” Mark Lanegan pretends
he’s Tom Waits (“Black River”) and Jon Spencer
pretends he’s Wall-E (“Fuzzbox”). No acid here.

 

Standout Tracks: “Butterfingers”
“Black River” “Smog” A.D. AMOROSI

 

Robert Pollard/Boston Spaceships – Brown Submarine

January 01, 1970

(Guided
By Voices, Inc.)

 

www.robertpollard.net

 

Robert
Pollard’s standing as the hardest-working man in indie-rock is further
reinforced by the emergence of a brand new project, Boston Spaceships, just a
few months down the road from the appropriately titled solo effort Robert Pollard Is Off To Business. This
one is what Pollard calls his “pop punk album, made by and for kids who’ve worn out the grooves on their
Cheap Trick, Alice Cooper, Wire and dB’s records.” But there’s nothing
especially pop-punk about it, despite the occasional chugging guitar. And even
at their most iconoclastic, the dB’s were practically slaves to pop tradition
compared to the more eccentric urges Pollard follows here.

 

The
crunch-guitar riff that eases you into the album may share certain
sensibilities with power-pop – recalling Graham Coxon’s Happiness in Magazines – but by the chorus, Pollard’s veered off
into psychedelic waters, pulls out of that bit with a hammering rhythmic
precision that places it closer to metal (which of course it isn’t). Other
highlights range from understated psychedelic whimsy of the type Robyn
Hitchcock would envy (on “Brown Submarine,” “North 11 A.M.,” and the poppier
“Two Girl Area,” for instance) to the punkish variation on Bo Diddley’s
favorite beat that powers “Ate It Twice” – which, naturally sounds nothing like
a song Bo Diddley would have written. Meanwhile, “Psyche Threat” finds him
trading up his classic rocker’s fascination with Who’s Next for a rocker that channels the more ambitious spirit of The Who Sell Out, complete with horns.
And when he hits his Big Star moment 11 tracks in, he opens wide and out spills
“Soggy Beaver.”

 

Standout tracks: “Winston’s Atomic Bird,”
“Psyche Threat” A. WATT

 

Harold Budd & Clive Wright – A Song For Lost Blossoms

January 01, 1970

(Darla)

 

www.darla.com

 

Avant
garde composer Harold Budd refers to his instrumental pieces as “art
music,” a particularly apt description, since his spare sense of melody
and languid tempos somehow evoke sweeping natural landscapes as accurately as
any master painter. Anyone familiar with the work of Erik Satie and Claude
Debussy will have at least some frame of reference for Harold Budd.

 

It’s
no surprise that the 72-year-old Budd, who plays the haunting piano and
synthesizer passages here, has worked in the past with kindred ambient spirits
Brian Eno and the Cocteau Twins. The lovely guitar on Lost Blossoms, played by British ex-pat Clive Wright, might be news
to anyone who remembers his overcooked ’80s synth-pop outfit, Cock Robin. With
over 30 albums under his belt, including several since his premature 2004
“retirement,” Budd has found a real ally in Wright, also his neighbor
in Joshua Tree, Calif., on the edge of the breathtaking desert park/national
monument of the same name.

 

One
word of caution about this hypnotic music: It’s not advised for long drives in
the car, especially late at night. You may think California is a laid-back place, but the
Highway Patrol here will not take kindly to you improving your feng shui by
letting your chi flow to the point of nodding off behind the wheel.

 

Standout Tracks: “Pensive
Aphrodite,” “Blind Flowers” JUD COST

 

 

 

 

Nils Lofgren – The Loner

January 01, 1970

(Vision Music)

www.nilslofgren.com

Long before he became a hired gun for Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, Nils
Lofgren kept similar company with Neil Young, contributing to Young’s seminal
set, After the Gold Rush and sitting
in on Crazy Horse’s excellent self-titled debut.  Lofgren went on to greater glories of course,
not least of which was his own band Grin, and the series of early albums that
marked his emergence as a singer, songwriter, guitarist and performer.  Nevertheless, he still considers Young a
mentor of sorts, prompting some payback via The
Loner – Nils Sings Neil
. It finds Lofgren accompanying himself on piano and
guitar while paying homage to fifteen of Young’s most memorable
compositions. 

 

Tribute albums can sometimes seem skewered; if the cover
artists veer too far from the blueprint, they risk alienating those faithful to
the original renditions.  On the other
hand, if they nail the material too precisely, there’s little point in
retracing it to begin with.  In this
case, the album leans to the latter, Lofgren’s clear, quivering tenor sounding
so much like Young’s that if one weren’t aware, they’d probably not know the
difference.  Opening track “Birds” is a
clear case in point; given the heartfelt delivery, it could easily be mistaken
for the original demo.  Given the sparse
settings and earnest interpretations, the same could be said of any of these
tracks. 

 

While the unadorned approach does wear thin after awhile, it
also opens up the essence of these songs, specifically, the gorgeous melodies
that inform the best of Young’s elegiac catalogue.  Certainly there’s no quibbling with the
choices – “Birds,” “Long May You Run,” “Flying On The Ground Is Wrong,” “On The
Way Home” and “Harvest Moon” among them. One might argue that “Don’t Be
Denied,” a song that ruminates with autobiographical detail, could seem
incongruous when sung by anyone other than its author.  Or that the lack of more ample arrangements
distills the insurgent intent of relentless rockers like “The Loner” or “Like a
Hurricane.”  

Regardless, those would be minor complaints. 
The Loner – Nils Sings Neil reflects profound devotion.  For fans of
either artist, this should be considered an essential acquisition.

 

Spotlight
tracks:
“Long May You Run,” “Harvest Moon,” “On the Way Home” LEE
ZIMMERMAN