Monthly Archives: October 2008

FROM DUST ‘TIL DAWN Calexico

On the eve
of the band’s
Carried
to Dust American tour, we re-examine how
Calexico is forging a brave new future.

BY JOHN SCHACHT

 

If
Barack Obama defeats Senator Same Old Song & Dance this November, let’s
skip the heartland Mellencamp and tomorrow-obsessed Fleetwood Mac and celebrate
with music more in tune with the better angels of America’s nature, so
neglected these last eight torturous years.

 

Few
bands would be better suited for that gig than Tucson’s Calexico. Culturally diverse,
intellectually curious, environmentally aware, and self-reliant yet socially
responsible, these qualities inform some of the most vibrant and eclectic music
American rock has to offer. The closer? Their new release, Carried to Dust, may be the best damn thing you hear this year.

 

Of course, Joey Burns and John Convertino, the ex-Giant
Sand rhythm section that began moonlighting as Calexico a dozen years ago, don’t
subscribe to the sloganeering school of agit-rock. Instead, their band has
evolved into a kind of musician kibbutzim whose defining trait is the mysterious nature of collaboration itself – a cooperative
tonic for every greedy cash grab, bogus terror alert, renditioning, waterboarding,
wiretapping, and “heckuvajobbing” spawned in Bush’s Orwellian reign.

 

But in this dysfunctional era, even the least
sentient have felt the foundation slip. Who hasn’t traveled down paths –
emotional, psychological, or artistic – they might otherwise never have, if
only in search of a response that didn’t involve one-way air-fare or a long
rifle in a tall tower? Calexico’s journey mirrors the national zeitgeist, maybe
plus some; given the band’s globe-spanning itineraries, the disconnect most
Americans felt was only exaggerated for Calexico when they toured the States.

 

Their 2006 release, Garden Ruin, channeled that frustration and angst into skittish rock
tempos and foreboding narratives, and featured furious crescendos that still
couldn’t quite relieve the tension. As Convertino says, “There [were] monsters
lurking all over Garden Ruin, even in
the pretty bits.”

 

But with change in the air, Americans seem willing
to peek out from their psychic bomb shelters for a look around. Hope is back,
and like most of us, the members of Calexico feel cautiously optimistic that we
might soon resume lives that will be, if not exactly worry-free, not defined by
manufactured fear either.

 

 “Having
gotten something of a response to the Bush administration out of our system,
and knowing that this is ending soon,” says Burns, “there’s a sense of hope
again.”

 

“It’s been a load lightened off our shoulders
just knowing he’s going to be gone soon,” adds Convertino. “I sense something
has changed with the new record; it’s a lot more experimental, and we’re having
a little more fun with it.”

 

***

 

With the ogre’s shadow gone from its central role
in their songwriting equation, the 15 tracks on Carried to Dust read like a crystallization of all things Calexico:
familiar elements refracted into exhilarating new sonic territories. The record’s
title alludes to Ask the Dust, the mid-century
novel by second generation-immigrant writer and underground hero John Fante, a
Convertino favorite. He says it resonated because of the main character’s
resilience. “I loved the character Bandini and his struggle; you get to the
point where you feel the whole world’s going to crumble, and then something
amazing happens.”

 

Victor Gastelum’s arresting chica-in-a-lowrider cover is the first sign of familiar footing;
with the exception of their 1997 debut Spoke and then Garden Ruin, Calexico’s
official full-lengths, EPs and singles are synonymous with his iconic artwork. Also
back in the fold are musical strong suits like the wide-screen desert noir, mariachi/surf
guitar mash-ups, Miles Davis mutes, nylon-stringed guitars, and high-and-lonesome
twang that defined The Black Light (1998) and Hot Rail (2000).
Elsewhere, the string orchestration of “The News About William” and funky drive
of the Latin Playboys-inspired son “Inspiración”
recall Feast of Wire‘s wider palette.
The experimental ambient touches and haunting interludes return from Garden Ruin exile as well, but fresh twists
on that record’s pop sensibilities and rock dissonance can be heard on “Writer’s
Minor Holiday,” “Two Silver Trees” and “Red Blooms.”

 

“You can almost imagine each song coming from a
different album in the past, and yet it’s been reworked and modernized so the
entire record has a new sound,” says Nick Luca, a long-time Calexico
collaborator who plays keys, guitar and Chinese ghuzeng on the new record.

 

The rock-fueled immediacy of Garden Ruin‘s production (overseen by
J.D. Foster) has been moved aside here, replaced by an element that distinguished
previous records: a sense of open space to match their desert environs. The
band credits co-producer and mixer Craig Schumacher, who’s worked with Calexico
on everything but Garden Ruin, with
opening their sound back up. Recorded and mixed at the band’s second Tucson home, Wavelab
Studios, Carried to Dust “has that
kind of ‘big room’ sound, the space in which you hear a natural decay of the
drums or trumpets,” says Burns.

 

“There is something in all the layers and
textures and subtleties that go into all the musicians’ choice of notes,” he
goes on. “But that kind of sensibility does really well when there is that
space for them to hear it. I think Craig gets that, so when we mix he knows
we’re going toward that. We like those mysterious notes that are in the
background, or just beyond the main instrument or voice. The mystery is
important; it goes hand in hand with the sentiment of a lot of the music and
the themes of the songs.”

 

Another sign of things opening back up: Carried to Dust‘s instrumental segues,
like “Sarabande in Pencil Form” and “Falling from Sleeves.” Burns describes them
as “little breaths” between songs that heighten “that more cinematic flow.” In
the past, Convertino says, he and Burns would deploy an instrumental to “reflect
on the songs with words,” but with Garden
Ruin
, they tried to “bring all of that together within each song.” Hence,
no instrumentals on that album.

 

It was no secret that Calexico went into Garden Ruin determined to switch things
up: they tracked from scratch as often possible with all six Calexicans present,
employed an outside producer for the first time, mixed the disc not at Wavelab
but in New York,
and highlighted their classic and indie rock influences. But some fans worried
that the new direction came with a steep bill – the loss of what defined the
band in the first place. They hadn’t exactly become the Strokes, but seemed
pointed in that direction.

 

As if in answer, Burns and Convertino went into
Wavelab alone after Garden Ruin‘s
release and recorded Tool Box, a tour-only
disc for their summer 2006 tour of Europe. Still,
it was hard to tell whether the 14 instrumentals were something to tide old
fans over, or a final purge of the word-less songbook.

 

Burns expected some fans, especially in Europe, to jump ship when they heard Garden Ruin. (A risky move, since Calexico’s bread has been
buttered better in the Old Countries; even with the cost of flying the band,
crew and equipment overseas, Burns says that the European tours, where they
play bigger venues and major festivals, still “pay for the American ones.”) But
they wanted “to make a point about, and for, America,” he adds, and hoped that
the more straight-ahead rock would attract new American fans. If positive
critical reaction is any yardstick, they probably did. But even the highest
praise for Garden Ruin typically came
with an elegy: “I won’t lie,” wrote one critic who loved the record, “I already
miss Calexico’s old mariachi-indie rock sound and the rampant eclecticism.”

 

Now it turns out all the hand-wringing was for naught.
Says Convertino: “I think people were like, ‘What happened to the ambience and
the instrumentals? You guys don’t like doing that anymore?’ No, we do like doing that, we still love that
aspect of the band, and I think that’s pretty evident in the new record.”

 

The times may simply have demanded the urgent
sonic and narrative shifts of Garden Ruin.
No one in Calexico is close to disowning it, but the new record sounds like
they’re more comfortable integrating the pop and rock into their own roots, rather than at the expense of them. Convertino
admits many of the songs on Garden Ruin felt like they “came from the outside in” and that may have made the biggest
difference in the end.

 

Still, Paul Niehaus, who’s played pedal steel
and guitar full-time for the band since 2001, suggests that if a couple more
traditional Calexico cuts that didn’t make the record had been included, Garden Ruin might’ve wound up “very
similar to the new record – it’s a very fine line there and you don’t really
notice until after the fact when you have something to compare it to.” But he
says that creatively, “it really has to start with John and Joey. They have a
vision of what Calexico can sound like, and we got away from that a little, but
on this one it’s definitely back.”

 

Before any new writing and recording for Carried to Dust took place, Calexico scheduled
some much-needed decompression time in 2007. The band had spent six months of
the year on the road each year since 2001 when they fleshed out the lineup with
Niehaus, bassist Volker Zander, and multi-instrumentalists Jacob Valenzuela and
Martin Wenk.

 

But time off is a relative term in the Calexico
universe. Their down-time included tours of Japan
in January, Australia and New Zealand in February; 19 Euro dates in July; Argentina and Chile
in October; and sprinkled one-offs throughout the U.S. during the other months. And
though studio work on Carried to Dust didn’t really begin in earnest until a year ago August, Burns and Convertino stayed
busy after Garden Ruin by adding to
their lengthy resumes, appearing on records by: Iron & Wine (The Shepherd’s Dog); Spanish rockers Amparo
Sanchez and Jairo Zavala; Lizz Wright (Verve’s answer to Blue Note’s Norah
Jones); French songstress Marianne Dissard; Naim Amor of ABBC fame; Susie Hug, formerly
of the Katydids; Italy’s Vinicio Capossela; and Neko Case, whose next album is
due soon. (The list is long enough that Burns phones back after Convertino
reminds him of more.) The soundtrack-friendly Calexico also contributed score
material and the song “Going to Acapulco”
to Todd Haynes’ Bob Dylan film, I’m Not There, in which Burns and Convertino cameo as part of the brass brand in Richard
Gere’s segment.

 

These collaborations fuel Calexico; secure in
their considerable musicianship and songwriting abilities, Burns and Convertino
thrive in the exchanges and are regularly touted as “great listeners” by other
musicians. Sam Beam, who recorded In the
Reins
with Calexico as his backing band, returns to add harmony vocals to “Valparaiso” on Carried to Dust; he also inspired some
of the striking images in “Two Silver Trees” by turning Burns onto the poetry
of Norman Dubie. Sanchez, who did a duet with Burns on Garden Ruin, does the same here with Valenzuela on “Inspiración.”
Zavala adds guitar throughout, and takes a great vocal turn on disc-opener
“Victor Jara’s Hands,” a tribute to the Chilean folk music hero murdered by Pinochet’s
death squads. Burns and Convertino met Willie Nelson band member Mickey Raphael
during the making of I’m Not There;
he adds harmonica to “Bend
to the Road.” Tortoise/Brokeback veteran Douglas McCombs, who appeared on 2000’s
tour-only disc Travellall, returns
for Carried to Dust‘s haunting ambient
piece “Contention City,” and Burns’ duet with Iowa singer Pieta Brown on the country
shuffle “Slowness” is another album highlight.

 

But the give-and-take starts with Burns and
Convertino, who’ve now played together for 18 years. The pair still open
occasional shows with an improvised duo piece (including on-the-spot lyrics)
typically so cohesive it fools many – including yours truly – into believing they
must be obscure covers or unreleased songs. They usually performed as a
two-piece in Calexico’s early years (and still do on occasion), and honed their
improv skills so well in Howe Gelb’s flying-by-the-seat-of-your-pants ensemble
Giant Sand that Niehaus says they “operate at such a very high level it makes
you really concentrate to come up with something that adds to the music.”

 

Luca is one of Wavelab’s regular engineers and has
worked on countless records made in the studio they fondly refer to as “the
hermit’s Abbey Road.”
He says the Burns/Convertino method of improvising ideas to tape or Pro-Tools
in the studio is far from standard. Most musicians show up with a list of
mapped-out songs that undergo minor changes in the studio; Calexico will record
“50 snippets of crazy ideas,” Luca says, and then bring in regular band members
and guests to add their input. “That’s really been Joey’s brilliance, his sense
of community and incorporating everybody around – that’s really made Calexico
what it is.”

 

Burns gives the credit to the other musicians’ “shared
appreciation for this kind of aesthetic and this path,” made of “many sounds
and many styles and influences.” But his greatest praise goes to Convertino,
whose drumming “drives the bus” – a sentiment many echo. The open spaces on Carried to Dust really play to the
drummer’s jazz-influenced strengths, and his parts are as nuanced and tuneful
as any other instrument on the record. Niehaus’ first reaction upon hearing the
final mixes was typical: “The drums just blew me away.”

 

But the Convertino Effect goes beyond his skills
with the skins. Burns says the care that the drummer takes with his kits – he
prefers vintage models, and has bought old sets on-line just to fix them up and
sell them at cost to friends like Victoria Williams and Neko Case – is a
metaphor you can extend to the way Convertino lives his life. Luca says that if
Burns is the songs’ homebuilder, and the band members, guest musicians and
studio staff serve as subcontractors, Convertino is the arbiter elegantiae, quietly suggesting when something drifts too
far from the Calexico aesthetic. “Everything about him is very vintage, very
tasteful,” Luca says, “we trust him for that.”

 

Burns cautions that this vintage is no retro hipster
put-on, but an organic response to the built-in obsolescence of modern life:
“John has seen it and then seen through it,” he says. “He’s just got this
Kerouac-like sense of adventure and poetic grace so that wherever we go…people
pick up on his dynamic, and that has a lot to do with how we’ve formed the
Calexico feel and sound.”

 

Calexico’s international flavors and themes can
obscure the fact that their music is resolutely American – maybe more so for
bringing so many different cultures into their sonic melting pot.

 

Their first trip to Chile and Argentina, where
they played sold-out shows in thousand-seat venues, provided Burns with plenty
of fodder for new lyrics, some courtesy of the CIA-funded ‘70s coup that gifted
the world Pinochet, and today’s echoes at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. An article
in The Economist about the growing
poverty in the new Russia
inspired striking images – “shadows drinking antifreeze” – and allusions to
Gogol’s Dead Souls in “Red Blooms,”
while the Oriental flavors of “Two Silver Trees” bring yet another musical
influence to the band’s table. One of Calexico’s thematic staples, urban sprawl
and its corrosive environmental effects, is beautifully rendered here by “Man Made
Lake.” Similarly, “Contention City,”
about an Arizona
ghost town where short-sighted greed in the 1880’s killed a boomtown in eight quick
years, works as a cautionary tale for, well, every civilization.

 

All of these themes point to the universality of
our plight; if Calexico’s music hops borders, so do the issues they write about.
That’s why a candidate like Obama, whose understanding of them is in direct contrast
to The Shrub’s willful ignorance, offers at least a glimmer of hope. For a band
whose Arizona
hometown is central in the immigration debate and all that it portends, choosing
a uniter over yet another divider is serious stuff, something their travels
have brought home again and again.

 

“You think about Europe,”
says Convertino, “and how they’ve been dealing with borders and different
languages and different cultures for a long time. They’ve obviously had their
problems, but they’ve gotten to a place where they don’t have to build walls
between their countries – as a matter of fact, walls have been coming down, not
going up.”

 

Burns sees Calexico’s role, however minor, as
part of the bigger picture; thematically, aesthetically, and best of all for
us, musically. That’s what gives Carried
to Dust
its impressive power, and makes even the most minimal Calexico
sketch resonate down to our souls.

 

 “Creative
freedom is a wonderful thing,” Burns says. “We’ve been involved with other
projects on major labels and we’ve seen the disconnect: artists are working
with other people who don’t get that artistic background, that cultural
continuity. They just don’t get it. They’re not reading the same books, they’re
not appreciating the same kind of quality of life. You’re face-to-face with a
corporate machine, and it is not about the future, it’s about here and now,
it’s about making money.

 

“There are a lot of people out there who need
money, who are not going to do anything unless they get paid for each and every
action. But everyone we work with is in it for the long haul, and they’re into
a quality of life, having this rich story with their life. They want to go
deep: they don’t want to just float on the surface.”

 

 

 

EMOTIONS IN MOTION Kaki King

The guitar whiz infuses beauty and emotion into her songs-lyrics
optional.

BY RANDY HARWARD

 

One thing Kaki King doesn’t want is to be known only as a competent-even
sublimely talented-female guitar player. She, like cartoonish dervish Marnie
Stern, wants to be known for her music in general; not just the intermittent
burst of notes part, but the rhythm-melody-harmony-lyrics parcel. The two women
are of the rare breed that can justifiably make this plea-each has crafted an
original sound around their likewise unique playing styles, both of which,
incidentally, involve the guitar hero’s built-for-speed technique: tapping, as
made famous by Eddie Van Halen.

 

But EVH these ladies are not. Though Stern’s thunderous, sometimes wacky,
guitar antics put her in a league of extraordinarily metal-esque gentlemen like
Les Claypool and Buckethead, she’s more an indie rock singer-songwriter. King’s
another story. While there are moments when she taps, pops-and-chokes, or
scuttles her fingers across the strings like a methamphetamine-addled
tarantula, that’s not the first thing you notice. That would be her heady,
hypnotic, harmony-laden songs.

 

“Crazy technique,” says King, “can only take you so far
emotionally. And I tend to write emotional songs.”

 

Even when, on her new album Dreaming of Revenge (Velour), King
starts with an instrumental tune that fully showcases her guitar acumen-but
does not belabor the point, she triggers an emotional reaction. The jazzy
trance-inducing guitar on “Bone Chaos in the Castle” forces 2-1/2
minutes of introspection by ostensibly putting the listener in a cavernous
space to sort out the clutter. This is better defined when “Bone…”
fades into “Life Being What It Is,” a tale of abandonment (“You
put a note in my pocket/said “Be good to yourself”/and that was
all”) where King dials down the guitar to allow the story in the song to
take the lead.

 

Another instro, “Sad American,” follows, painting an ethereal,
tribal dream with a Cure-ish guitar sound that gives way to “Pull Me Out
Alive,” an alternately chugging-dreamy, new wave/shoegaze tune that
bemoans the violence and chaos in the world and requests rescue.

 

Lest you sense a pattern here, only four of the eleven songs on Revenge have vocals. King actually started out all-instro, only incorporating vocals
and other instruments to develop her atmospheric, lyrical, singer-songwriterly
sound on Revenge‘s predecessor, 2006’s …Until We Felt Red.
Her early albums took an earthy Leo Kottke-centric approach, but still resonated
with emotion and an implicit message, sometimes hinted at in the title (read
between the lines on “Happy As A Dead Pig In The Sunshine”) and
always elaborated upon by her expressive, vibrant guitar playing.

 

“Even though I’ve pushed myself as a guitar player,” she says,
“I don’t think I’ve ever written a song without some sort of feeling
involved in it. Technique, by itself, is pretty much devoid of feeling
and emotion.”

 

When King plays guitar, it’s colored by the inflection of her soul, the emotion
she wants to transmit. Many guitarists skate by, simply accenting notes, but a
great guitarist finds a way to go beyond simple emphasis. “I’ve listened
to a lot of guitar players in my life, and a lot of drummers and
bassists,” says King. “They’re really talented, and it totally gets
my technical rocks off to go and listen to some young Berklee grad who’s a
monster on the drum set, but if the musically doesn’t have emotional content it
doesn’t really splash with me.”

 

So on “So Much For So Little,” King employs a robotic, alienated
strum/chop a la Alex Lifeson from Rush over wet, watery chords and bare
fingerpicked arpeggios, distorted power chords and more arpeggios laden with
spooky harmonics. There’s a lot going on, but it’s all fairly simple: so much,
for so little. And from there, one can draw his own conclusions about the
significance of the song. It could be about wanting more for less, or realizing
you’re more a taker than a giver.

 

Either way, it works. And King is a great guitarist. Mind you, that’s not
spitting in her face, calling her what she’s asked not to be called. What she
told Blast Magazine earlier this year was she didn’t want to be known
only as a “good female guitarist.” She’s fine being
appreciated for her fretboard wizardry so long as you get what she’s trying to
do. Which is: “to infuse something beautiful into what I do.”

 

 

BRIDGE TO SOMEWHERE 4: Show-Us, Obama!

One more week of nail biting and
backbiting (an ongoing weekly summary of the presidential campaign).

BY BEN WESTHOFF

 

October 28, 2008 – Dispatch from Missouri: Though
bright red for the past two presidential elections, Missouri is actually a bellwether state,
having picked each president in the last hundred years except Stevenson over
Eisenhower in 1956. If everyone else jumped off a bridge the Show-Me state
would too, and they’ve been trending purple since the election of Democrat senator
Claire McCaskill over Jim Talent in 2006. This year it’s a battleground hot
spot, naturally, and over the long weekend I spent time in St. Louis and the Ozarks, taking the
temperature of the place. (Warmer than New
Jersey.)

 

I went to
college at WashU and later worked as a staff writer at Riverfront Times, so it didn’t surprise me that
the same state responsible for this Barack Obama-as-Muslim
Sambo billboard (in West Plains) could also play host to a 100,000 person Obama
rally (at the St. Louis
arch). It’s something of a middle-American Pennsylvania,
after all, with urban hubs on its east and west ends (swap Pittsburgh
and Philly for Kansas City and St.
Louis) and, essentially, Alabama
in the middle. (My Birmingham-born girlfriend hates that analogy.)

 

Obama’s face was
all over the airwaves in St. Louis,
the result of his record cash haul. Or at least McCain’s hang-dog cue-ball head
was, squawking about voting with Bush every minute of every hour. At Kingshighway
pub The Royale pictures of John and Bobby Kennedy decorated the walls, and on a
local hip hop station former Miss America Vanessa Williams called in to implore
the T-Painoscenti to go big O on November fo’. The on-air host, after relating
his school days crush for her, added that the station will sponsor election day
taxis to drive people to the polls
for free.

 

The Big Muddy McCain
supporters weren’t faring quite as well. St. Louis Blues goalie Manny Legace tripped
over the carpet that had been rolled out on the ice for Sarah Palin to drop the
puck at the team’s game on Friday, suffering a strained hip flexor and giving up
two goals in the first period. (Whereupon he left the game.)

 

That same day I
drove some 200 miles southwest to Springfield,
Missouri, a Republican stronghold
in the heart of the Ozarks. One of the whitest cities in the country with a
population over 100,000, it’s also one of the largest red dots on U.S. election
maps, the kind of place where a Bass Pro Shop is the preeminent cultural
institution. In fact, the parking lot of said hunting and fishing supply store
was the site of one of Sarah Palin’s largest rallies yet on Friday, drawing
maybe 15,000 despite chilly temps. (I saw a number of “Sarah” bumper stickers
around town, feeding rumors that she’s writing off this election and gunning
for 2012.)

 

 

Election issues
were on everyone’s lips and folks were ridiculously informed, spouting win
share numbers they read on fivethirtyeight.com and
discussing early voting problems in Florida.
The family I was staying with even had an Al Franken bumper sticker on their
car, despite no ties to Minnesota.
They greeted each other in the morning, I kid you not, with the former Saturday
Night Live comedian’s latest poll numbers. (Personally, I think Franken’s a tool, although Norm
Coleman’s chompers are a bit tough
to take as well.)

 

Even in
Republican country there were signs of the coming Democratic onslaught. Democrat
Attorney General Jay Nixon maintains an enormous lead over Republican
congressman Kenny Hulshof in the Governor’s race; first term guv Republican
Matt Blunt made a lame duck out of himself earlier this year by announcing he
wouldn’t run again. This was a stunning turn of events for the baby-faced son
of Springfield-based house minority whip Roy Blunt. The thirty-eight year old deficit
hawk came to the Governor’s mansion in 2005 with a Republican house and senate
and a very pregnant wife in tow. She gave birth to their son in March that year.
Now he exits amid rumors he’s hiding something in a series of improperly
deleted emails that may yet see the light of day. (The Springfield folks insist it’s common
knowledge around town that he’s gay.)

 

In any case, a Research 2000 poll over
the weekend showed Obama up by a point in Missouri, within the margin of error
but the first time he has led in that poll. Big news in the Show-Me state,
perhaps, but nobody else around the country seemed to care much. Obama doesn’t need Missouri, after all. In fact, if he can
swing Colorado and Virginia, he doesn’t need any of the Bush
states.

 

Regardless it
looks like Missouri
may end up doing what all the cool kids are doing, per usual. During my visit I
certainly saw plenty more Obama signs than Confederate flags.

 

Backtrack:

 

Bridge To Somewhere Week 3: Joe the Gay Porn
Star

 

Bridge
To Somewhere Week 2: Something in the Ayers

 

 Bridge To Somewhere Week
1:Dizzy with spin

 

 

 

 

HOLY ROLLER Brother JT

Spreading the rock
gospel and squeezin’ that sweet ol’ jelly roll.

 

BY A.D. AMOROSI

 

 

John Terlesky, the Philadelphia
singer, lyricist and guitarist they call Brother JT, makes holy rolling garage
rock touched as much by the divinity of the Trinity as it is the odd gods of
spindly psychedelia.

 

Hallelujah.

 

From 2002’s Spirituals through to more recent fare such as Doomsday
Rock
, Holy Ghost Stories and the
newly-released Jelly Roll Gospel, Terlesky’s
openly flaunted his continuing fascination with God’s music – or at least his
idea of His idea. “Firstly, I was raised Catholic, and that tends to stick with
you, so things are still going through that old filter,” says JT.

 

Part of it – Terlesky’s big IT – like the album titles, and
even the name Brother JT, is just kind of a motif or hook. “Somewhere along the
way I started taking the tongue-in-cheek approach of the whole Brother JT thing
being a ‘ministry’ and the shows would be like tent meeting sermons, etcetera,
except with acid rock instead of genuine gospel music. Kinda jokey; but not
completely.”

 

Because Terlesky’s songs were and are generally sincere about
what they’re trying to say (á la Jelly Roll Gospel‘s “Ribbon Driver”),
when the conditions are right you can feel a sort of whirling dervish-like
communion that JT has with his audience while in the throes of playing this
kind of music., both live and on-record.

 

“That’s the spiritual part that keeps me interested,” he
says, of the sincerity-based connectivity factors found in his music. (A
further explanation of this subject can be found, via a lengthy rant titled
“Jesus Guitar” at www.brotherjt.com.)

 

Though a religious man, Terlesky may not always be a
church-goer. Though I dare – and he dares – to say that there’s an
unexplainable joy that he feels at the oddest times that come with little or no
explanation. “Certain pieces of music, the way light looks on things at
sundown, noises the cat makes – these are things I would interpret as some kind
of connection to a Big Other Thing. I don’t even want to try and figure it out;
[I] just keep it way on the back burner and try to enjoy things.”

 

Some of his newest songs, like “Accident Was Waiting,” sound
exasperated, almost futile and empty, in regards to their futures found in
Heaven or on Earth. “You kinda just get plopped here, like an empty hard drive,
and stuff starts programming you. I really don’t feel like we have a whole lot
of say in how we turn out, because even our reactions to things are determined
by earlier programming. So if you have any self-awareness you know on some
level the way things are going to go, and you feel helpless to do anything
about it because you’re hard-wired to be that way.”

Hopefully it’s something good that you’re supposed to do beyond that
hard-wiring. That’s Terlesky’s prayer. Beyond making extended versions of God’s
good Word courtesy Jelly Roll Gospel,
there’s something less divine on his agenda. “I was thinking about throwing my
hat into the ring, though I guess it’s getting late. And I don’t own a hat. But
I think I might have some unusual options for America. My slogan would be ‘I’m
For Sweatpants – It’s Where We’re Going’. Oh well, maybe in 2012… Then again,
that’s when the Mayan thing happens. OK, never mind.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

GOSPEL (NOT GOSPEL) Bodies Of Water

They are spirits in the material world.

 

BY LAURA
LEEBOVE

 

An album solely
about the creation of Earth doesn’t seem atypical of a band whose members were
raised in devout Christian households. Though Bodies of Water songwriter David
Metcalf quickly found that idea too limiting, it did spark a couple of the
tracks on the band’s second LP, A Certain
Feeling
(Secretly Canadian).

 

 

The L.A.-based
band’s core members-Metcalf, his wife Meredith, Kyle Gladden and Jessie Conklin-express
their faith in their music, but Metcalf says he doesn’t really have a religious
or political agenda. “I think that good art changes the way that you see
the world,” he says. “Nothing that I think politically has ever been
affected by hearing a song.”

 

 

The songs on
the band’s debut, Ears Will Pop and Eyes
Will Blink
, explored much of the spiritual world, a theme Metcalf says is
less pronounced on the new album. A
Certain Feeling,
he says, “is more about moving through the world and
actually being in the natural world and the manmade world.” The album was
recorded in the Metcalfs’ home, where the band experimented with new percussion
instruments-“various blocks and wooden things and metal objects,” he adds,
laughing.

 

 

It would be too
easy and perhaps even ignorant to write off Bodies of Water as a less cult-like
Polyphonic Spree or the Arcade Fire with fewer musicians. With a sound much
greater than its four members, the group churns out intricate, gospel-inspired
harmonies driven by a host of instruments-keyboards, horns, a clarinet,
guitars. But the heart of the music always comes through in their voices.

 

 

“In that
sort of rock music paradigm, there isn’t a lot of precedent for a lot of people
singing together,” says Metcalf. “We listen to [gospel] and there’s
elements of that in what we do, naturally, just ’cause we do like it … but it’s
not really similar to other gospel music.” 

 

BLURTING WITH… Kim Salmon & Darling Downs

The Australian
guitarist on his collaboration with Ron Peno, his musical influences, his old
band the Scientists and more.

 

BY FRED MILLS

 

Longtime Oz-rock aficionados surely know the name Kim
Salmon, who since the late ‘70s has been a mainstay of the Australian musical
scene, first as frontman for the legendary Scientists and then later with the
Surrealists, the Beasts of Bourbon, Antenna, Salmon and other outfits. A few years
ago he teamed up with vocalist Ron Peno – another fellow Aussie whose group the
Died Pretty blazed a memorable alt-rock path from 1984 onward until finally
disbanding in 2002 – and as the Darling Downs, the all-acoustic, country-folk
duo has recorded two albums, 2005’s How
Can I Forget This Heart Of Mine
and this year’s From One to Another (both available on the Carrot Top label, www.carrottoprecords.com; the
latter came out in America just a couple of weeks ago).

 

Folks expecting vestigial strands of either the Scientists
or the Died Pretty in the Darling Downs, however, may be in for a surprise. As suggested in my review of the album (read it HERE), the pair marries
Salmon’s sometimes spare, sometimes intricate picking (on both guitar and
banjo) to Peno’s croons, whoops and footstomps, and the results are a pretty
far cry from the D.P.’s cinematic pop-psychedelia and the Scientists’ swampy
thug-punk. But it’s a mesmerizing, at times deeply emotional musical summit,
the product of two men clearly at ease with one another and having a whale of a
good time just getting together informally – initially, at least; they’ve since
become a viable touring act – and channeling some of the acoustic sounds and
styles that they love, any expectations brought along from previous bands be
damned.

 

Having followed the Australian scene closely since the early
‘80s, over the years I’ve written frequently about Salmon and his myriad projects,
just as I have about the Died Pretty. (I used to pen a column in the
now-defunct magazine The Bob titled
“The Wizards Of Oz” in which I zeroed in on Australian and New Zealand acts, and the
Scientists and the D.P. were in there from the get-go.) And two of my fondest
memories are of seeing Salmon and his Surrealists play at Club Congress in Tucson in the mid ‘90s, and catching the Died Pretty once
during the ‘80s at Raleigh,
NC, venue The Brewery. So it’s
doubly nice to be able to be inspired by the men, via their music, once again.

 

Check out From One to
Another
(samples can be heard at the Darling Downs MySpace page), and
meanwhile, enjoy the following interview that BLURT recently conducted with
Salmon.

 

***

 

BLURT: Kim, how long
have you known Ron?

 

KIM SALMON: I live in Melbourne
now but have known Ron since 1982 when Brett Myers from The End introduced him
to me one Friday night. [Ed. note: Myers
played guitar alongside Peno in the Died Pretty; The End was Myers previous
band, and after Peno’s group The 31st split in 1984 Myers recruited
the vocalist for a new project they dubbed the Died Pretty.
] This was at the Scientists’ early
residency at the Vulcan Hotel in Ultimo, a suburb of Sydney, the city that both of us had chosen
to make our homes back then.

 

 

How did the idea of doing
a country/folk/blues project together arise? How did you get the Darling Downs up and running?

 

Well, it used to be, over the interim years that Ron and I
would bump into each other at gigs. Ron got into the habit of saying to me in
those late intoxicated hours, “Kim, you and I have gotta record a country album
together.” It was just the sort of talk musos came out with for something to
say to each other and I thought nothing more of it… Until one day, awhile after
he had moved down to Melbourne,
where I had finally settled. I thought, “Why not take Ron up on his idea?”

 

I had recently recorded my [2002] E(a)rnest album which was entirely acoustic so I remained in that
mode and recorded some acoustic guitar ideas onto my Dictaphone tape recorder
and took them to Ron’s flat over in South Yarra.
It turned out he had just as many vocal ideas on his Dictaphone. If that wasn’t enough of a coincidence, the fact
that our music gelled immediately was!
I’d go over to his flat on Fridays (he can’t drive) and go home with three new
songs on my recorder each time.  One
Friday a year or so later – we weren’t that diligent about keeping up our
sessions – he played all of the songs we’d put down and we counted some 20 of
them.

 

We were really just doing it for fun, and if something more
came of it then that was a bonus. It seemed like it was time to make that bonus
happen, so I set about getting us some shows and began to learn the best of the
material we’d amassed – we were in the habit of just making them up, taping
them, and leaving them the way they were. None of them have been changed since
they first appeared either, by the way.

 

Anyway, I felt that the magic was in the sound that just the
two of us made together and persuaded Ron that at least for the time being
there was no need for a band to back us up. Ron had written on his tape “K&R
Darling Downs,” which was the name of a small goods company, the K & R
being for Kim and Ron. It was just a private joke and not a serious band name.
When our booker informed us of our first show, supporting Ed Kuepper at the Corner
Hotel in Richmond
on May 22, 2004, he needed a name to call us by and I gave him that. Given that
we didn’t really want to be named after an abattoir we dropped the K&R
part. We thought that the name darling downs had a nice connotation, e.g.
something like “beautiful melancholy” or “bitter sweet.”

 

 

What are some of the
artists and records that influenced you personally over the years, as well as
some that you feel can be heard echoed in the Darling Downs?
Did you come to some of the latter late in life, or had you always been a fan?

 

Me personally, fuck!  Some of it’s well-known to people acquainted
with my music – Stooges, Suicide, Beefheart, Creedence always come up,
especially for the Scientists, but I liked most of the U.S. punk/CBGB stuff –
Ramones, Television, Blondie. Before that I liked British rock like Zeppelin, the
Stones, Bowie
and King Crimson… and when it was okay after the initial punk purges, I liked
them again, ha-ha!

 

I’ve also liked jazz since I was a teenager, especially Thelonious
Monk and Miles Davis. In a Silent Way,
Bitches Brew and On the Corner have had as big an influence on my music over the
years as any music. Of the blues artists, Howlin’ Wolf is definitely the one
who I’ve taken the most from by a long shot, although I do like most blues. I
have always felt a greater affinity with jazz and punk than blues, bizarrely,
even though a lot of people think of my stuff as blues – which it is not.

 

But none of this tells anything, really. Julie London’s in there,
along with Nancy Wilson, Leon Russell -fuck, when I was a teenager I was a dog
for Joe Cocker! – Hank Williams, Lee Hazelwood, Can, Blue Oyster Cult… the list
could go on. For the Darling Downs, I was first influenced by the British folk-rock
stuff, like Cat Stevens, Nick Drake and Jimmy Page. If you listen to my playing
on the first album you can see that’s not such a big leap. I let Ron be the
bluegrass aficionado. He liked the Carters, the Louvin Brothers and the Stanley
Brothers.

 

I’m not sure that list really tells as much as people think.
They can be a bit of a red herring if you ask me. Also, I know I’ve left out
countless worthies. 

 

 

Given your respective
backgrounds, was there any discussion about – shades of Dylan – “going
electric” with the Darling Downs instead of
taking the acoustic route?

 

Ron kept on saying things like “I can here strings on this
song” and my response was always, “If you can hear them already then we don’t
need to put them there.” As I mentioned earlier, I really believed that the
magic was in just having my acoustic guitar and Ron’s singing. It was as though
we could evoke more by not having those extra sounds, which would actually
narrow our evocative power. “Going electric” would mean having a band, which
would do a couple of things. It would make us more like other bands; and it
would put me back into the backing part of the band, which I am, quite frankly,
not up for. I didn’t sign up to be someone’s backup musician in this.  

 

 

What the hell is up
with that freaky video for “Circa ‘65” – “a ‘countripolitan’ song filmed in a
neo-cubist style,” as you have put it – and how was it created?
[View the video on the BLURT site HERE.]

 

It was filmed by Tony Mahony, a friend of ours who has done
a lot of work for Dave Graney over the years. He had this idea of doing a
really cheap video by making it mostly still photos with just bits of us
animated. It came from a kind of cartoon that used to be around back in the
sixties and seventies where they’d just have still frames but with real peoples
mouths superimposed in. There was one called Space Angel that I think you’d have gotten in the U.S., or you
might have got Captain Pugwash.
Anyway, Tony works for a production company and had access to cameras and post-production
stuff and really wanted to try out his idea. When he saw us live, he decided
we’d be the ideal guinea pigs.

 

 

In recent years
you’ve fielded a lot of projects: Antenna, Salmon, a solo album, last year’s
Australian and European Scientists tour. Aside from the Darling Downs, what else do you have cooking?  And speaking of the Scientists, will the
monster be reanimated once again, either in the studio or for the concert
trail?

 

It’s always possible, given the right offer and person to negotiate
things, that there could be more Scientists shows. I do think, however, that
the set of conditions that made that band work and evolve have passed on
forever and that it would be an extremely risky thing to attempt to make
another recording of new material with that band. Having reformation shows has
been more a matter of setting things up for just long enough for us to recreate
what we did have without it going anywhere . I don’t believe we’d go anywhere
good if we were allowed to go on for longer than a short time. I haven’t heard
any reformation albums that can convince me otherwise, I hate to say.

 

It has been great revisiting what the Scientists did,
and it has rekindled something that I can pursue with the Surrealists,
who never actually broke up and are, I believe, able to grow and evolve. For me,
Blood Red River [Scientists, 1983], The Human Jukebox [Scientists, 1987] and
Hit Me with the Surreal Feel [Surrealists,
1988] follow a natural path that I got diverted from throughout the nineties. Anyway,
it put me back in touch with what I was trying to do back then, and a lot of
ideas that have been mulling over in my head for a decade and a half have just
fallen into place since doing the Scientists tours. I’d never get any of it
past some of the Scientists members and they’re just not the right people for
it now – and I’m not knocking them either, just saying it like it is.

 

The Surrealists, on the other hand, have just picked up all
the ideas and run with them. It’s amazing. We’re definitely going to do another
album and it’s going to follow on seamlessly from Hit Me With The Surreal Feel, which was so far ahead in time
compared with anything I’ve done subsequently that it won’t be a step back in
time. 

 

 

Who would win in a
no-holds-barred cage match, the Died Pretty circa Free Dirt or the Scientists circa the “Swampland” 45?

 

Come on Fred, It would be a dirty trick just trying to pit
Died Pretty against all the doom and angst of the Scientists. They might be okay
in a stadium but stick them in a cage with us

 

 

Lastly, if I won a
contest and my prize choice was between free tickets to a Darling Downs show,
or airfare and accommodations on a tourist trip to the southern Queensland area
called Darling Downs, what should I pick, and why?

 

I’m probably not the person to ask that. The only time I’ve
been there, I was severely hung over and coming down off a trip – who, me?! – so
I didn’t really come away with the right impression of the region. Also, back
in primary school we had a class project where all the pupils were given
another school somewhere in Australia
to write a letter to their equivalent grade. I wrote mine to Toowoomba primary [Toowoomba is the main town in the Darling Downs region] and I was the only pupil in my class
not to get a reply.

 

Sod the place, come and see the band, man!

 

 

 

 

EXTREME LOVER Benji Hughes

The Tarheel singer-songwriter has had enough of
silly love songs.

 

BY JOHN
SCHACHT

 

Charlotte, North
Carolina, native Benji Hughes describes himself as an
“extreme songwriter,” and there’s little about his debut to argue the point. How
many opening salvos are sprawling double discs of 25 playful-but-poignant love
songs and carry a loaded title like A
Love Extreme
?

 

“Maybe
this is as close to [John Coltrane’s] A
Love Supreme
as a guy like me can get,” laughs Hughes, whose thatch of red
hair and fulsome beard suggest he could be a descendent of extreme Norseman
Eric the Red.

 

A June
tour of the U.S.
with Rilo Kiley followed by a European trek in October as Jenny Lewis’ opening
act may have increased Hughes’ profile some, but to most he remains a newcomer.
Yet the 33 year old is actually a veteran of the music business, having penned
his first song in his mid-teens and, except for occasional house-painting
stints, shown enough songwriting talent that he’s done little else for a living
since.

 

Legendary
record exec Seymour Stein signed him (along with Muscadine co-founder Jonathan
Wilson) to a contract with Sire in the mid-90s, and it was Twin/Tone founder
Peter Jesperson who helped land him at New West Records in 2005. In between, the
then-bicoastal Hughes signed with an L.A.
song-publishing company, and wrote with the likes of Alice Cooper, Burt
Bacharach, Holly Palmer, Bill Bottrell, Chris Body and even rapper Mickey
Avalon. (Other credits: The “put a little Captain in ya” Captain Morgan Rum ad jingle,
and “Let’s Duet” from Walk Hard: The
Dewey Cox Story
).

 

The key
connection he made, however, was with former Everlast beats-maker/keyboardist
Keefus Ciancia. Thrown together in 2004 to come up with a song for a birth
control product advertisement, the two turned out to be an unlikely musical
peanut butter-and-chocolate tandem, Ciancia’s processed beats bringing out the
playful side of Hughes’ often moving love songs.

“I’ve got
the whole rest of my life to make bummer records, and I’m sure that I will,”
says Hughes. “I love that kind of stuff, I mean I love country music, but I
really wanted to make a record that was fun to listen to and overall more
upbeat.”

 

 

[To read a review of Hughes’ album go HERE.]

 

NATURAL BORN DECIDER: Oliver Stone’s W.

The veteran filmmaker locates
the simple, unvarnished soul of George W. Bush.

 

 

BY A.D. AMOROSI

 

 

When you first caught wind that Oliver Stone was teaming
with his scriptwriter on Wall Street,
Stanley Weiser, for a biopic on America’s worst (and current) president you
thought you’d get slapstick no matter what the bone wry Stone said to the
press; something like Stone’s own zany Natural
Born Killers
, or Alexander. So to
get jutting jawed Josh Brolin to narrow his squint and scrunch his face and
tighten his arms to portray a W. from his wet hot summer college frat days
through to the wrongheaded Iraq
conflict and make the entire production a sober, surprisingly serious chamber
piece is a stunner. That Stone carries it off so much better than he did during
Nixon is doubly amazing.

 

 

W.

Directed by Oliver
Stone.

Written by Stanley Weiser.

With Josh Brolin,
Elizabeth Banks, James Cromwell, Thandie Newton, Richard Dreyfuss and Jeffrey
Wright.

(Lionsgate)

 

 

 

For Stone, Weiser and Brolin, Bush was a boy born to
privilege who could get into Skull & Bones and Ivy League schools and get
out of troubles with pregnant girlfriends and police through the auspices of
“Poppy” Bush Sr. (James Cromwell; more on him later). That Texan noble pose
becomes the essence of W.’s presidency, that Karl Rove (Toby Jones), Donald
Rumsfeld (Scott Glenn) and Dick Cheney (Richard Dreyfuss) could get him in and
make him king. That they couldn’t get George out of trouble? That’s for W.2.

 

Conflicted relationships form the film. More like his loud-mouthed
mom (Ellen Burstyn) than his father, finding his way to God and AA (courtesy a
Baptist preacher played by Stacy Keach) in a manner that turns him in a
“Decider,” the once booze-obsessed Bush is a man torn ultimately apart by being
a just a guy with simple tastes better suited to running a baseball league than
a country.

 

True to his word, Stone does not take sides or turn W. buffoonish. Stone allows his version
of history to transpire: Bush prodding Tony Blair into war or leading his
cabinet through a green field just to get lost; Bush missing the point or a
question or the lessons learned by his father’s elegant presidency. Or did he
miss the point? Bush 2 was the one that got a chance at a second term, not Bush
1. That that fact sickens his father – that theirs is relationship that rarely
surpassed its necessary beginnings – is what truly drives W. toward somber
gracefulness. That’s due to scowling, beady eyed, even crying Cromwell’s
bird-like prowess. He’s cool, not cold; good, not grand; and perfectly picayune
as the man that would be king had his son not done it twice and somewhat
dumber. When Bush 1 rants to Bush 2 about messing up the legacy, it’s
Shakespearian tragedy closer to the epic rapid-fire J.F.K. than Nixon. But
its tone is dark and somber like Nixon,
not rapier smart, hurriedly acted or vividly paced like J.F.K..

 

There are strange, even silly elements to be found: the way
Brolin swigs his beers as Bushie (whether alcoholic or O’Douls), or the manner
in which Dreyfuss (subtly, just once) mangles his teeth and jaw in twitching,
Cheney fashion, like a talking, still breathing death mask. Most particular to
this is Thandie Newton who plays Condi Rice as if she was an Asian woman
channeling Lily Tomlin’s on ringy-dingy phone operator. Jeffrey Wright as Colin
Powell? Wright uses a grumbling barrel toned voice and stiff body language as
if portraying Gregory Peck portraying Clark Gable in a WWII propaganda short. Newton and Wright go
weird – which is almost okay, as nobody else seems to do so.

This isn’t a completist version of the Bush tale (no real 9/11 or Katrina) nor
is it meant to truly satirize Bush’s eight year run or the news or the wonks.
It isn’t perfect as it seems to drag when Brolin and Elizabeth Banks (as Laura
Bush) hit the screen in fine, if not dryly romantic, fashion. But Stone and
Weiser are able-bodied and sober on their antsy beleaguered mission to find the
simple soul of a simple man, and their star follows along chillingly close
without seeming to make light (or mere impression) of the situation. If only
the real Bush had made it all this easy.

 

 

 

 

WHATEVER IT TAKES Lucinda Williams

How the beloved
songwriter learned to stop worrying and enjoy the fruits of her labor.

 

BY HAL BIENSTOCK

 

Over the last three decades, Lucinda Williams’ reputation
slowly grew to the point that she’s now routinely cited as one of the best
songwriters of her generation. Yet during that time, the building blocks of her
songs have remained essentially the same: love, loss and longing. While her
music has run the gamut from rock to country to folk to blues, the emotional
tenor of her lyrics has almost always centered on anger, heartbreak or sadness.
It seemed that the one emotion Williams’ expressive, whiskey-soaked voice
couldn’t tap into was joy.

 

So it might surprise fans to learn that Lucinda Williams is
officially happy.

 

“When I made my last album, West, my mother had just passed away and I was coming out of an
abusive relationship with a drug addict who had to go back into rehab,”
Williams explains. “Then I met my fiancée and everything just changed for the
better. I’m kind of a late bloomer, but everything in my life right now is the
best it’s ever been.”

 

While anyone who has followed her career can’t help but be
happy for her, fans may also worry that the Lucinda Williams they’ve come to
know and love may be a thing of the past. Certainly, her latest album Little Honey is the loosest album
Williams has ever made, but it’s still as gritty and soulful as ever. While it
lacks some of the unity of 1988’s Lucinda
Williams
or 1998’s Car Wheels on a
Gravel Road
, both of which were near-perfect, it’s a breath of fresh air from
the relentlessly downbeat West. There’s
a freewheeling duet with Elvis Costello (“Jailhouse Tears”), an ecstatically
upbeat roadhouse rocker (“Honey Bee”) and even an AC/DC cover (“It’s a Long Way
to the Top”). Perhaps the biggest surprise is how well it all works. After all,
any music fan came name dozens of classic songs that are sad or angry. There
hasn’t been a great happy rock song since “She Loves You,” something that
Williams tacitly agrees with when she observes that upbeat tunes are “really
hard to write without moving into the mushy sugar-coated place you don’t want
to go. You have to keep a tiny bit of sarcasm in there. The best songs that do
that are classics from people like Peggy Lee, Frank Sinatra or Nat King Cole.
It harder to do in this genre because rock ‘n’ roll is all about angst and
leather and studs.”

 

Still, Williams had no choice but to try. Where most
singer-songwriters say fans shouldn’t read too much about their own lives into
their songs, Williams admits that she’s only really good at writing about one
subject – herself.

 

“Bob Dylan is great about writing about people he doesn’t
know personally,” she says. “He can take a story out of the newspaper and write
about it, like ‘Hurricane.’ For me, it has to be something I can reach out and
touch. There has to be a personal connection between me and the person in the
song. Not necessarily a personal friend, but at least someone going through
something I’ve experienced myself.”

 

As college students are learning every day in this age of
Twitter and Facebook, there are downsides to making your life an open book. For
Williams, it means that she’s required to dredge up pain from her past every
time she steps on stage. To some extent she looks at it philosophically –
that’s simply the lot of a working musician. But she also sees some emotional
benefit to it, explaining, “It’s like going back and looking at pages from a
diary. We can choose to forgive, but we’re not going to forget. You still have
those feelings in you. Letting them out can prove to be very therapeutic. You
also sing those songs to help other people who might be going through the same
stuff.”

 

 Williams’ personal
life isn’t the only thing that has changed over the last few years. She has
also become a much more prolific writer. Where she had once been known for
taking four or more years between albums (“I used to marvel at how I’d meet
other songwriters and they’d have 2,000 songs they’d written. I’d have just
enough songs to make the one album I was working on.”), her last four records
have come at a steady clip. She attributes the change to developing more confidence
in herself and her music, and that newfound confidence allowed her to go
through her old notebooks searching for lost gems. Two of them wound up on Little Honey: “Circles and X’s,” and “If
Wishes Were Horses,” both of which were written in the mid-‘80s. The
inspiration for her journey through the past struck when she heard Laura
Cantrell’s version of her song “Letters,” which Williams wrote around 1975 and recorded
on a demo but never officially released.

 

Explains Williams, “She got a copy from a mutual friend and did
a beautiful, really sweet version of it that made me think ‘Wow, she brought
this early song back to life, maybe I should go back and review some of my old
stuff.’ I’ve got all these tapes of old little songs, but I never thought they
were good enough to do anything with. I wrote the hook for ‘Circles and X’s’ in
1984 or ‘85 but never finished it. I guess it wasn’t ready to be born yet.”

 

Williams adds that part of the reason she was able to give
birth to it now is that she’s no longer as hard on herself as she once was. It’s
a strange comment from someone who has long been known in the music industry as
a demanding perfectionist.

 

 “I’ve always had this
voice in the back of my head that says ‘I know this is good’ but then it never
fails that when I’m making a record, I start to question this and that,” she
says. “That’s what the song ‘Fruits of My Labor’ [from 2003’s World Without Tears] is about. When am I
gonna enjoy the fruits of my labor and stop worrying?

 

“But that’s just me. It’s not something that’s ever going to
go away, but I’m working on it. We all have our stuff we have to battle and if
that’s what it takes for me to write these songs, then so be it. Whatever it
takes.”

 

[Photo Credit: Danny Clinch]

 

For a review of the
opening show of Williams’
Little Honey tour
go HERE.

 

 

BRIDGE TO SOMEWHERE 3: Joe the Gay Porn Star

Two more weeks of nail biting and
backbiting (an ongoing weekly summary of the presidential campaign).

 

By Ben Westhoff

 

October 20, 2008 – Hunt for the Red in October:  It’s about time for a good old fashioned October
surprise, no? Though it seems unlikely
arms-for-hostages deals will be made or any old drunk driving charges will be
brought to light (the former works much better than the latter, by the way),
the desperate Republican brain trust is surely plotting overtime how to put out
Barack Obama’s fire or sink his ship or fry his noodle, or whatever.

 

But while we await an Al Qaeda attack on Scranton, or for claims from an anonymous
interstellar source that Obama has extra-terrestrial blood, the best John McCain
could come up with this week was Joe the Plumber. An ostensibly undecided voter
from outside Toledo
who had questioned Obama about his tax policy at a recent rally, Joe wanted to
start his own plumbing company, you see, and worried that Obama’s tax plan
would fuck him up. Never fear, Obama told him, patting his bald dome and
rubbing his belly simultaneously; spreading around the wealth would be best for
everyone.

 

This was a rare gaffe on Obama’s part, and McCain referred
to old Joey Lead Pipe’s story ad nauseum during Wednesday’s final debate. Obama’s plan to raise
taxes on those making over 250,000 grand would initiate class warfare to a
level not seen since Che Guevara was riding Harleys around South
America, McCain went on. (He later called Obama a socialist and
said his welfare-promoting economic
plan would result in a buncha government cheese Chicago ladies driving around in Aston
Martins sittin’ on dubs.)

 

The only problem with all this is that Joe isn’t a licensed
plumber, his name isn’t Joe, and he’s actually a Republican. His handle is
Samuel J. Wurzelbacher, it turns out, and more importantly he surely wouldn’t
make enough to be affected by Obama’s plan even if he did start his own
business.

 

So with poor Joe’s story ripped apart he was forced to appear
on television next to a once-fat ex-governor of Arkansas. (Not Bill Clinton but Mike
Huckabee, star of new Fox News show Huckabee.)
McCain’s camp was left to regroup, but all they could come up with was putting Sarah
Palin on Saturday Night Live
. The
show’s thirst for ratings trumped its ideological bent, but the result was a
total dud, capped by the uncomfortable spectacle of Alex Baldwin insulting Palin
to her face and then telling her she was hot. Whereas Hillary Clinton’s visit
to the set worked because Amy Poehler’s portrayal of her came from a place of
love, it’s fairly certain Tina Fey’s comes from a place of fear and/or anger.
Call it a net loss for both sides.

 

In any
case, the polls weren’t quite as friendly to Obama supporters this week as
they were last week
. West Virginia now
appears to be out of
play
, and North Dakota
seems unlikely. But a polling breakdown of individual swing counties appears to
show just how deep Obama’s support is, as he boasts solid leads in those areas
in states like Maryland,
Ohio, Virginia and Pennsylvania
.

 

But while
liberals will probably still get the opportunity to feel swell about themselves
come November 4, they should not get cocky. John Kerry won some of those same suburban
counties four years ago, after all, and polls have historically erred on the
side of Democrats. In fact, polls seem especially suspect this year for a
number of reasons. Some, like Zogby’s, try to duplicate the voting demographics
of the last election. Others focus on “likely” voters. But by all indications
turnout won’t mirror previous votes. I predict that at the end of the day we
will be surprised not by the Bradley effect, but by
the high rates of Black people showing up at the polls. (A trend born out by
some early voting tallies.)

 

Here’s betting
Obama does Lil Wayne-type numbers. After all, Wayne is someone else who does quite well
among both the urban poor and educated white liberals (aka music critics), as
well having vague affiliations with Martians and other unsavory characters.

 

Who knows,
an October surprise may end up fucking up the Republicans more than the
Democrats. You can bet on a blue filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, say,
if it turns out Joe the Plumber is actually the gay porn star his name implies.

 

 

Backtrack:

 

Bridge
To Somewhere Week 2: Something in the Ayers

 

Bridge
To Somewhere Week 1:Dizzy with spin