Monthly Archives: September 2008

JJ Grey & MOFRO – Orange Blossoms

January 01, 1970

(Alligator Records)

 

www.alligator.com

 

There’s nothing particularly different about this MOFRO album
–  it’s just a stronger distillation of
the band’s vision. Like the three previous very fine records, the focus is on
JJ Grey’s soulful, deep-south vocals and earthy tales while the sticky,
slow-grinding funk grooves of the band push the songs along. But like they say,
if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, and this might be MOFRO’s best effort yet.

 

There’s a celebratory vibe to the chorus of the title track
while the introspective last cut “I Believe (In Everything),”with its liquid
guitar line, full-bodied horns and gospel backing vocals, is enough to draw a
tear. Packed between are ten more songs that move from the ominous piano crawl
of “She Don’t Know” to the juke joint banger “On Fire” to the sympathetic
strings working with understated harmonica on “Dew Drops.” While the tempos dip
and sway they’re always covered by shadows and thick air.

 

JJ Grey & MOFRO are one of the preeminent southern soul-blues
bands of the day. Everything is rooted in Grey’s Florida backwater roots and the man is the
real deal. Orange Blossoms is the newest chapter of a
timeless band with legs to run the long race. Like the state flower that adorns
this album’s cover, each time MOFRO deliver an album you can smell the place as
it instantly transports you to Grey’s back porch staring out over the
swamp.   

 

Standout Tracks: “Dew
Drops,” “I Believe (In Everything)” AARON
KAYCE

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

Neil Halstead – Oh! Mighty Engine

January 01, 1970

 (Brushfire)

 

www.brushfirerecords.com

With Slowdive, Neil Halstead helped define shoegaze in the early ‘90s. He now
has parallel careers in Mojave 3 and as a solo artist. Whereas Mojave 3’s most
recent album, 2006’s Puzzles Like You,
turned toward upbeat pop (with mixed results), Halstead’s second solo album, Oh! Mighty Engine, sticks with the
introspective, acoustic guitar tones that made his solo debut, 2002’s Sleeping on Roads so excellent.

 

If anything, Engine is even quieter and more contained than its predecessor, which had a few songs
that opened up with an electric guitar or two. This one keeps Halstead’s gently
picked acoustic guitar and his hazy, sleepy voice in the foreground-hence the
Nick Drake comparisons that he often receives-and colors them with gentle
percussion or harmony vocals here, some organ or mandolin there, and the
occasional full band (“Queen Bee” would sound like a restrained respite on Puzzles; here, it’s the “rock” track).
There’s subtle humor in songs like the Christ-questioning “Sometimes the
Wheels” and “Baby I Grew You A Beard” (whose title is less subtle than the song
itself). Like Mark Kozelek or James Yorkston, Halstead can be compelling even
though he’s understated and monochromatic. He’s traded shoegazing for
navel-gazing, and it suits him.

Standout Tracks: “No Mercy for the
Muse,” “Sometimes the Wheels” STEVE KLINGE

 

La Rocca – OK Okay

January 01, 1970

(Dangerbird Records)

 

www.dangerbirdrecords.com

 

Think in terms of making a good, stiff Irish drink, in this
case appropriately the Irish Carbomb, combine half a pint of Guinness, a shot of
Jameson and a splash of Baileys. Drink it down in one quick shot and you have
instant good times. With the band La Rocca, you have three fourths Irishmen,
one fourth Limey and funny enough, the best new American band in recent memory.
Headquartered in Los Angeles
and influenced heavily by American music (think Springsteen and Petty), the
band crafted a debut, 2006’s The Truth, that screamed instant classic. And
their follow-up, Ok Okay, not only
picks up where they left off but sprints full speed ahead to the top of the
class.

 

Whereas the The Truth actually took a bit to get going – it wasn’t until the fourth track that you
really had a classic on your hands, although there was by no means any filler
on that record – with Ok Okay there’s
no waiting. From the opening track, “Argument Never One,” there’s a sense that
you’re listening to something special. Sure, they still come across as Rod
Stewart meets Coldplay, as singer Bjorn Baillie has that raspy style ala Rod
Stewart and keyboardist Nick Haworth’s piano is never out of earshot. The track
“Half Speed” comes across as Coldplay if they recorded the track of a lifetime,
and “Ballad of Arizona” has an epic Americana
sound to it. This must have been what it was like back in the ‘70s to discover
bands like The Eagles and even Fleetwood Mac being on the cusp of greatness.
Stiffer than any good drink, Ok Okay is
instant good times.

 

Standout Tracks: “Ballad
of Arizona,” “Half Speed,” “Roadway Hymn,”
“Argument Never One” JOSE MARTINEZ

 

Tough Alliance – The New School

January 01, 1970

(Slum)

 

www.slumrecs.com

 

The Tough Alliance-Henning Furst and Eric Berglund-come out
of the same Gothenburg, Sweden scene that brought us their sometime-tourmate
Jens Lekman, and they share with Lekman a homespun but extravagant pop
demeanor. TTA, however, favor extroverted twee anthems in contrast to Lekman’s
witty introversion.

 

Their discography is rather convoluted: The New School, their first album, came out in Sweden in 2005;
here, bolstered with tracks from some early EPs, it precedes this fall’s
release of A New Chance, their third
full-length that came out last year in Sweden (no domestic sign yet of their
ambient album, 2006’s Escaping Your
Ambitions
).

 

There’s not a lot new about The New School: it’s full of perky synth pop, boyish chanted
vocals, and self-referential humor, directly descended from Vince Clark in both
his Yaz and Depeche Mode years and not unlike Canada’s Russian Futurists. “Take
No Heroes” is a literal roll call of influences: the list begins with Ice Cube
and grows to include both Brian and Jackie Wilson, CeCe Winans, the Buzzcocks,
Biggie and reggae star Barrington Levy, resulting in something more akin to a
record collection catalog than a clear aesthetic vision. But “Koka-Kola Veins,”
“My Hood,” and “In The Kitchen” are bouncy fun, and they’re clear evolutionary
steps toward the tighter, more consistent work of the later A New Chance and its great single “First
Class Riot,” in which TTA add a bit of glammy bite to the bubblegum buoyancy
found throughout The New School.

 

Standout Tracks: “Koka-Kola Veins,” “In The Kitchen” STEVE KLINGE

 

 

Jonatha Brooke – The Works

January 01, 1970

(Bad Dog)

 

www.jonathabrooke.com

 

If you sat down and compiled a list of artists you’d most
expect Jonatha Brooke to cover, Woody Guthrie probably wouldn’t even make the
top 100. And yet that’s exactly what The
Works
 is, 13 late-period Guthrie
lyrics set to music and recorded by Brooke at the behest of the late Guthrie’s
estate caretaker/daughter Nora.

 

The unavoidable comparison, of course, is to the Billy Bragg
and Wilco Mermaid Avenue albums, which made a
lot more sense on paper than this does. In contrast to the Bragg/Wilco camp’s
agitational and folk-rock leanings, Brooke’s emotional quaver,
adult-contemporary pop sense and Lilith Fair vibe make an odd fit for the
legendary alpha-male troubadour. The album gets off to a shaky start, too,
hitting false notes of braggadocio Brooke just doesn’t have in her on “You’d
Oughta Be Satisfied Now.”

 

But overall, The Works works a lot better than you’d expect, for the same reason Mermaid Avenue did. In forcing Brooke to seek a comfort zone in an unlikely place, The Works loosens her up. Not
surprisingly, she skips the heavy political stuff for interpersonal songs – and
danged if she’s never sounded sexier than on “All You Gotta Do Is Touch Me,” a
downright randy duet with Keb
Mo.

 

Standout Tracks: “New
Star,” “All You Gotta Do Is Touch Me” 
DAVID MENCONI

 

 

Glen Campbell – Meet Glen Campbell

January 01, 1970

(Capitol
Records)

 

 www.capitolrecords.com

 

 

At first glance,
the new album from Glen Campbell might appear to hew to a formula that’s
becoming all too familiar: hot-shot producer coaxes faded star out of
retirement or away from the temptation to keep churning out re-recordings of
old hits, and once in the studio, Svengali-like, aims to work some sort of
artistic transformation. Meet Glen
Campbell
turns out to be no Rubinization, however, and its archly, but
utterly appropriately named, because the sound that Campbell became famous for forty or so years
ago fairly explodes, reborn, off of this record.

 

Co-producer
Julian Raymond was the motivating force behind Campbell’s return to recording;
he conceived the project, recruited musicians, and selected the songs. With the
likes of Travis’s “Sing,” Foo Fighters’ “Times Like These,” the Replacements’
“Sadly, Beautiful,” and Green Day’s “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life),” on paper
the track list might look to be too hipster by half. But the songs are refitted
with Campbell’s classic, country-pop sound, and the result is nothing short of
astonishing.

 

Raymond isn’t
interested in reinvention. On the contrary, he recreates and reinvigorates the
amalgam of lush, layered, soaring symphonic strings and horns and understated
twang that defined the singer’s heyday, and thereby, provokes a recurring sense
of déjà vu, from a rolling banjo line in “Angel Dream” that recalls “Gentle on
My Mind” to the echoes of “Galveston” in the sharp strings-swell opening and
mid-song baritone guitar break of “Walls.” And at the center of it all,
Campbell’s voice is still strong and supple, and he’s lost nothing as a master
interpreter. Meet the new Glen, same as the old Glen.

 

 

Standout Tracks: “Times Like These,” “Sadly Beautiful” STUART
MUNRO

 

 

 

 

Ben Folds – Way to Normal

January 01, 1970

(Epic)

 

www.epicrecords.com

 

A farrago of pounding piano romps,
bouncy pop gems, and plaintive ballads, Way
to Normal
finds Ben Folds sounding freer than he ever has on a solo
album.  Songs like the frenzied jive “Dr.
Yang” and “Errant Dog”-both offering heavy doses of thundering keys and fuzzed
out bass-are as energetic as anything he’s done since his days with Ben Folds
Five while the heartbreaking “Cologne” and “Kylie from Connecticut” demonstrate
his ability to mesh simple but evocative lyrics with penetrating melodies and
rich arrangements.  

 

Although humor has always been a
hallmark of Folds’ music-particularly his live shows-he has never reveled in it
on his solo releases to the degree that he does on Normal.  On the opening track, “Hiroshima (B B B Benny
Hit His Head),” an arena anthem that’s part homage to Elton John and part Weird
Al, Folds recounts a nasty spill to open a show in the Japanese city:  “And the spotlight followed me out/ I waved
hello to the crowd/ And busted ass off the stage.”   Folds offers some lyrical clunkers when he
moves from charmingly oddball to sophomoric on songs like “Bitch Went Nuts” or
“Effington”-which musically may be the most compelling song on the album-or
just gets downright lazy:  “I’m gonna
drag his ass back home back where his ass belongs” (“Errant Dog”).  Lyrically, he’s at the top of his game when
his humor takes on its typically acerbic tone whether he’s skewering vacuous
girls (“The Frown Song”) or responding to a musical barb with one of his own on
the eminently catchy “Brainwascht”:  “But
if you had to say it all in a pop song/ Couldn’t you at least have made it a
good one?”

 

Fortunately for Ben Folds’ fans, the
album offers quite a few good ones.

 

Standout
Tracks: 
“Cologne,” “Dr. Yang”
JASON MIDDLEKAUFF

 

 

 

Duhks – Fast Paced World

January 01, 1970

(Sugar Hill Records)

 

www.sugarhillrecords.com

 

 

The Duhks are just so goddamned good. They have been since
their 2003 debut, Your Daughters And Your Sons, and they have been flirting
with perfection with ever since.  On
their fourth studio album lead singer Sarah Dugas steps in to fill what fans
and possibly the band had to believe were the un-fillable musical shoes
of Jessee Havey who flew the coop in 2007. 
There just aren’t that many singers out there who can match Havey’s
warm, sultry, soulful voice and her ability to apply it in so many different
ways. Enter Dugas – exit worry.

 

 

Opening with the one-two punch of “Mighty Storm”, a churning
minor key narrative of early 20th century Texas tragedy and slamming
right into the title cut they make a definite mission statement; the Duhks came
to play but not to play around. By a few cuts in  – “Toujours Vouloir” – a listener has only
two options; one of them is to go blind. The album’s production is almost
eerie; the stark landscape of their native northwestern Canada a presence in
itself. The feeling of being in their world – and happily so – never let’s up.

 

 

The Duhks have the ability to amalgamate so many forms –
North American, Irish, French-Canadian and Métis folk, zydeco, samba, and a
touch of blues and a lot of soul – without losing the musical integrity of any
and make it all make wonderfully ear-pleasing sense. They did it with Havey
(and percussionist Scott Senior who was replaced by Dugas’ brother Christian)
and they do it equally well with Dugas. There are moments, no, the whole of Fast Paced World is flat-out bewitching. The Duhks are just so
goddamned good.

 

Standout Tracks: “Toujours Vouloir”, “You Don’t See
It” RICK ALLEN

 

 

 

Everlast – Love, War and the Ghost of Whitey Ford

January 01, 1970

(Martyr Inc.)

 

www.martyr-inc.com

 

Everlast is smack-dab in the middle of an identity crisis,
and on Love, War and the Ghost of Whitey
Ford
, it shows. Part of the artist formerly known as Erik Schrody is still stuck in the House
of Pain, hip-hop roots of his past, while another part is trying to continue
the “What It’s Like” bandwagon into a Johnny Cash-like future. While Schrody’s
popularity may be based in his dual worlds – one rap, the other acoustic rock –
neither can survive while the other lives (kind of like Harry Potter and Lord
Voldemort).

 

In other words: Everlast can’t be truly good at one until he
gives up the other. Unfortunately, on Love,
War and the Ghost of Whitey Ford
, both sides are out in full mediocre
effect. On 16 very long tracks, Everlast exhibits his schizophrenic display to
write interesting, thought-provoking material that other people just happened
to write first (“Naked”); clichéd, boring lyrics (“Everyone”); and some stuff
that’s just plain bad (“Die in Yer Arms”).

 

If it sounds like it’s all been done before, it has.
Everlast’s whole career can be reduced to this schtick (as genuine as it may
seem): Chronicling the tough American experience by crafting tales about society’s
lower classes, comprising drug dealers, prostitutes and outcasts. In classic
stereotype fashion, Everlast proclaims he’s got his pick-up truck, his gun and
the taste of whiskey in his mouth, and he’s ready to shine a light on all the
badness in the world. Too bad, then, that he chooses to highlight problems he –
or musicians better than him – have already focused on.

 

See: “Weakness,” which is pretty much an exact copy of his
own earlier hit, “What It’s Like” (both spin yarns of a woman done wrong by the
world around her, forced into prostitution and drug addiction, “this weakness
is my only friend,” etc.).

 

Or, “Die in Yer Arms” and “Dirty,” both of which cop
industrial-sounding, almost Nine Inch Nails-like beats for Everlast to use as a
background for lyrics such as, “She’s looking so young/ She’s smelling so
pretty” on the former and “I’m so dirty, call me ‘Daddy’/ You’re so sexy, you
could be my bad girl/ If someone hurt you, and you tried to hide it/ I’d cut
you deeper, cuz I know you like it” on the latter. Gross.

 

Or, “Everyone,” which – with a chorus of “Everyone cheats,
everyone lies/ Everyone suffers and everyone cries” – sounds disturbingly
similar to R.E.M.’s depressingly beautiful ballad “Everybody Hurts.” Similarly,
“Naked” sounds a lot like something Rage Against the Machine would have written
a decade ago, with lyrics such as, “The rich, they get richer/ The poor, they
get poorer/ … It’s time to revolutionize/ Organize/ Weaponize.” Where’s Zack de
la Rocha when you need him?

 

The final nail in this coffin, though, comes in the form of
Everlast’s cover of “Folsom Prison Blues,” Johnny Cash’s classic. But this is
not your ordinary remake – Everlast layers his delivery of the lyrics over both
“Folsom Prison Blues”‘s original instrumentation and the beat from House of
Pain’s “Insane in the Membrane,” creating a warped, amazingly amateurish
version of Cash’s classic that can be commended for its creativity (kind of?)
but not much else.

 

Overall, the good parts of Love, War and the Ghost of Whitey Ford come very few and far
between. There are some moments of poetic prettiness – such as on “Friend,”
when Everlast proclaims, “There’s a sickness in my soul/ And I don’t know, but
I’ve been told/ It’s incurable/ There’s a darkness in my heart/ Slowly tearing
me apart/ It’s unbearable” – but overall, it’s an awkward juxtaposition to hear
the singer-songwriter go from talking about abusing a girl on one song to
encouraging the working class to rise up in the next.

 

Simply put, Everlast is no Eminem, nor is he Johnny Cash –
and after this Love, War and the Ghost of
Whitey Ford
, hopefully he’ll realize it’s finally time to put Whitey Ford
to rest.

 

Standout Tracks: None.
ROXANA HADADI