Monthly Archives: October 2008

I Want to Take You Higher: The Life & Times of Sly & the Family Stone

January 01, 1970

(Backbeat)

 

www.backbeatbooks.com

 

It’s true. Brevity is pretty often the soul of wit. At the
very least, it’s a phantom limb. Take, for instance, David Kamp’s Vanity Fair story/interview on Sly Stone
last year. Like Roky Erickson and Brian Wilson before him, Stone was (is) the
last of the great ‘60s godfathers who, after long being lost in whatever-haze-he-found-himself,
is slowly being found; or finding himself; or getting well enough to perform.
The latter for rock audience purposes is the main thing. That said, Kamp’s tale
not only brought back the past (hits, Woodstock,
influence, clothing) and gave the recent past a flip-through (golden Mohawks at
2006’s Grammys), it allowed Stone a present and a future. Stone may have seemed
gently opaque. But that’s like saying Keith Richard seems wrinkled – just is.  

 

San Francisco
writer Jeff Kaliss had another 200-odd pages to fill than Kamp did and
benefited from not only great access to Stone but permission to mix it up. You
sense some tension in the conversations about old material vs. new material,
drugs and ladies, and the passage of time and the mention of friends gone and
lost. But Kaliss is a friendly writer who gently lances the touchstones, takes
on the classics, and, generally and genially, snags all who still live
within/around the Family Stone rubric (that is: mad genius in the modern age)
and gets them singing. Point is, I wanted Kaliss to take me a little higher with
more critical insight into Stone’s music and his mood. The length of Kaliss’
book merits/needs just a tad more density so to make it the necessary bible on
Sly. Then again, if Kaliss got this far – maybe he should consider a second
volume. A.D. AMOROSI

 

Miss Murgatroid & Petra Haden – Hearts & Daggers

January 01, 1970

(File Under: Music)

 

www.fileundermusic.com

 

 

Accordion, violin and voice, all pitched at their most
unearthly, twine and curl together in nine extraordinary compositions here. In
their second record together, accordionist/singer Miss Murgatroid (Alicia J.
Rose) and violin/vocalist Petra Haden build mirage-like musical landscapes that
flit from torch jazz to periwigged minuet to gypsy campfire songs.

 

The vocals take center stage (building perhaps on Petra
Haden’s prior experiments with a capella arrangements) but sound, for the most
part, like anything but voices, billowing in wordless clouds, punching staccato
blots of rhythm, sliding and scatting and executing the most arcane harmonies
and counterparts. The main instruments share timbre with the two women’s
voices, the accordion as rich and tremulous as an alto singer, the violin as
keening and high as a clear soprano. You listen to the accordion sometimes,
thinking it is a voice, the voices wondering how they morphed from strings. It’s
all like a trance: odd, lovely and unforgettable.

 

Standout Tracks: “Fade Away,” “Sleeper” JENNIFER KELLY

 

Mavis Staples – Live: Hope at the Hideout

January 01, 1970

Anti-

 

(www.anti.com)

 

 

What goes around, comes around. Soul music came out of
gospel all those decades ago – Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say” and “Hallelujah I
Love Her So” – and quickly infused pop (and rock) with a churchy intensity, a
dream of salvation and fear of damnation, that left all the Perry Comos and Kay
Starrs wondering what happened. Rock ‘n’ roll happened. The Staple Singers
certainly were among the countless African-American acts who moved from the
church to the pop charts (“I’ll Take You There,” “Let’s Do It Again”), but they
stayed a little closer to their source than most, in part because the group saw
a parallel between the righteousness of black gospel and the civil-rights
movement.

 

Now, at age 69, Mavis Staples has triumphantly returned to
gospel with this album recorded live in a small Chicago club called the Hideout just last
June. But she’s brought with her everything she’s learned from decades of
performing secular R&B and rock – a seamlessly tight, hot band featuring
the explosively bluesy, sinewy Creedence-like guitar of Rick Holmstrom, the
propulsive drumming of Stephen Hodges and her own persuasively plaintive and
contemporarily urgent voice that is upfront, relevant, intimate yet capable of
exhortation.

 

Following last year’s great Ry Cooder-produced studio album,
We’ll Never Turn Back, this covers some of its songs – “Eyes on the
Prize,” “Down in Mississippi,” “This Little Light,” “We Shall Not Be Moved” –
along with reprising some songs she has done previously, such as Buffalo
Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” and “Freedom Highway.” Holmstrom’s funky
guitar introduces “Freedom Highway” like a kissin’ cousin of “Turn On Your
Lovelight,” and Staples takes it from there. Her longtime fans will compare
this with the Staples’ 1965 live gospel album Freedom Highway, but it’s
as fiery as anything live to come out of the 1960s (or afterward), including
James Brown’s classic Live at the Apollo. It’s also jubilant. The
recording captures Staples’ give-and-take with the audience – she even lets
them sing the title refrain of encore “I’ll Take You There.” Her back-up
singers sound so physically and intuitively close to her (her sister Yvonne is
one of them) that you imagine them welded into her vocal cords.

 

Wisely released by Anti- on Election Day, Live is
also reminder of all it took to get to the point where Sen. Barack Obama is
running for President. Her voice and songs are testimony to the fact the
journey hasn’t been easy, but it’s been triumphant. So is this record.

 

Standout Tracks: “Freedom Highway,”
“I’ll Take You There” STEVEN ROSEN

 

 

White Denim – Exposion

January 01, 1970

(Transmission)

 

www.transmissionentertainment.com

 

When White Denim burst on to the scene last year with a high
energy live show and an EP full of wild guitars, many people thought they were
witnessing the second coming of The Stooges. The band’s first full-length, Exposion, finds them toning down some of
their wild ways, but becoming a more interesting and complex band in the
process.  The guitars on opening track
“Don’t Look That Way At It” sound more like Adrian Belew-era King Crimson than
Iggy Pop and “Migration Wind” is the kind of jazzy instrumental the Minutemen
might have recorded.

 

But don’t think for a minute that White Denim have hung up
their rock and roll shoes – “IEIEI,” for example, is a full-on blast of acid
rock. Exposion is the sound of a band
forging new paths without forgetting where they came from. Like a classic TV
cliffhanger, it’s an enjoyable ride that also leaves you hungry to see what
happens next.

 

Standout
Tracks:
“IEIEI,” “Sitting” HAL BIENSTOCK

 

Lou Reed’s Berlin

January 01, 1970

(Genius Products, 81 minutes)

 

www.geniusproducts.com

 

If you were to compare the number of people now who say they loved Lou Reed’s
harrowing 1973 recording Berlin with
the amount of people who loved it upon
release
(and please, let’s not discuss sales),
you’d find a true discrepancy. Save me and Lester Bangs, I can hardly remember
Reed’s tale – of degradation, tedium, drug lust, depression, prostitution, and
a junkie-couple torn asunder by all-the-above – winning many fans. Heck, at the
time I can almost remember its producer Bob Ezrin saying something about not
being able to crawl out from the weight of Reed’s crushed velvet nightmare.

 

Apparently, painter/sculptor/director Julian Schnabel was a
friend and fan – not just of Reed, but of the brittle sad Berlin.
The man who lensed Basquiat and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly has
turned Reed’s richly orchestrated hamstrung musical novella into a live, slightly
rawer epic filled with a seven-piece orchestra, Reed’s original Berlin co-guitarist Steve Hunter, old
band mates Fernando Saunders and Rob Wassermann, and newer friends Antony
Hegarty and Sharon Jones. (“I felt it to be the soundtrack to much of my life”
says Schnabel of the LP, by way of introducing Reed at the St.
Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn show.)

 

While Reed’s dry-ice croon brings necessary warmth to the
silken jazzy title ballad and the brooding cabaret of “Lady Day,” he’s
mawkishly neurotic (is that calmly so?) on the halting “How Do You Think it
Feels?” While Reed and his big band overplay their hand and roar altogether-too-mightily
on “Men of Good Fortune,” they all take it nice, spare and slow on “Caroline
Says II”; Reed’s words “Why is it that you beat me – it isn’t any fun” come down
like snow upon a whisper during his vocal run. It’s the ballads that benefit
most in this concert setting – tense takes on Reed’s brittle best that allow
Lou & Co. an opportunity at simmering opera banter. What could’ve been just
a very, very good concert film shot in deep browns, greys, ambers and reds is
run through with a fuzzily sun-splattered look-see at Caroline (played
blonde-ly and Nico-ishly by Emmanuelle Seigner) and her woozily doomed love
affair with Jim (who cares who’s playing him – stare at Emmanuelle).

 

But the star is Reed’s daring droll songs and the manner in
which he stares them down. Throughout Berlin‘s
tentative horror, Reed coolly essays this serial night-mare without blinking or
sinking into parody. He’s a cool customer who gets that these moments, once
ignored by even his deepest fans, are getting their due and he relishes their
import on his terms. Even if he’s added extra crunchiness to the Munch-iness,
they’re a perfect scream. And take note: when Matador releases Lou Reed’s Berlin: Original Film Soundtrack later this month, the Berlin album
in its entirety is followed by crucial versions of Reed classics – “Candy
Says,” “Rock Minuet” and sweetly guttural “Sweet Jane.”
Get shopping.

 

Special Features: Q&A with director Julian Schnabel A.D. AMOROSI

 

 

Daniel Martin Moore – Stray Age

January 01, 1970

(Sub Pop)

 

www.subpop.com

 

Before he even released his debut album, Daniel Martin Moore
had achieved a measure of notoriety as the first person ever signed to Sub Pop
records on the basis of an unsolicited demo. 
And Moore
fits in quite well alongside fellow Sub Pop folkies Iron & Wine and Fleet
Foxes.  That’s not to say he sounds like
them. If Fleet Foxes come from the Crosby, Stills & Nash school of folk, Moore is a disciple of
Nick Drake, with simple acoustic guitar, jazzy brushed drums and hushed vocals.
His music is warm and intimate, and several songs have melodies that sneak into
your head and don’t leave.

 

But while Fleet Foxes and Iron & Wine’s influences are
readily apparent, both artists transcend the past by adding unique flourishes
of their own.  Moore’s debut shows signs of promise, but he isn’t
at their level yet.

 

Standout
Tracks:
 “That’ll Be the Plan”
“Who Knows Where the Time Goes” HAL BIENSTOCK

 

Old Rare New: The Independent Record Shop

January 01, 1970

(Black Dog)

www.blackdogonline.com

The rumors of the demise of indie record stores have been
greatly exaggerated: That’s the underlying premise of Old Rare New, an essay/photo book that both mourns the passing of
those musty hole-in-the-wall shops no longer with us and celebrates the
resilience of those who’ve hung in there. The book’s dotted with images of
storefronts, overflowing LP bins and drool-inducing pics of rare record sleeves
– there’s also a handy directory of British and American collectors shops –
alongside passionately penned contributions from deejays, journalists,
archivists and musicians.

Wearing all four hats at once is Saint Etienne’s Bob Stanley
who reflects upon being initially smitten by the visual allure of his father’s
records (“They seemed mysterious and important. The coloured labels had me
hooked.”) and, later, the thrill of discovering colorfully-named establishments
like Beano’s, Bonaparte’s and Rough Trade. Cat Power’s Chan Marshall, in a
lively Q&A, drops her guard completely when she reminisces about shopping
expeditions and her most beloved finds. Devendra Banhart, Will Oldham, Billy
Childish, Joe Boyd and others serve up similar anecdotes.

The best essay is “My Life In Record Stores: A Cautionary
Tale” in which rock critic Byron Coley chronicles his journey from wide-eyed
pre-teen to savvy collector to store clerk to operator of his own business, Massachusetts’
Ecstatic Yod. The whiff of recognition is profound when Coley summarizes where
we’ve been, how we got to the current state of affairs, and why doomsday
predictions are premature:

“There is nothing quite like walking into a strange little
record store and finding a record you’ve been after for so long, you didn’t
even remember you wanted it until you flipped through the bin and saw it. There
is no similar charge available online, and it can’t be gotten from a CD. There
is something unique to vinyl and little stores and the people who live to breathe
their air… As long as there are any of us, independent record stores will never
die.” FRED MILLS

Moody Blues – Live at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970 [reissue]

January 01, 1970

(Eagle)

www.eaglerecords.com

 

With the recent spate of re-releases spanning the Moody Blues’
seminal catalogue, the band’s fans – particularly those whose college years
were experienced through a filter of incense, black lights and the heady
soundtrack provided by early Moodies’ classics like Days of Future Passed, In
Search of the Lost Chord
and On the
Threshold of a Dream
— have been given the chance to reacquire the group’s
catalog with a wealth of add-ons.  While
there have been various BBC recordings included in the bonus bonanza, these
tracks, recorded in 1970 at Britain’s
star-studded Isle of Wight Festival, offer a rare opportunity to hear the band
live and unvarnished, without the advantage of any studio embellishments.

 

In fact, for a band so seemingly dependent on elaborate
instrumentation and production prowess the Moodies proved surprisingly
successful in making the transition from studio to stage.  There’s a tougher, rawer edge to certain
songs – “Gypsy,” “Question,” “Legend of a Mind,” and of course, “Ride My See
Saw” – but here, in full flight, Justin Hayward’s stirring vocals are less
constrained and considerably more emotive. 
If there was a sort of sterility or reserve to their sound before, it’s
not in evidence here. That said, the beauty of their ballads – particularly,
“Never Comes the Day,” “Are You Sitting Comfortably,” “Tuesday Afternoon,” and
the venerable “Nights In White Satin” – tap the supple, sensuous appeal of the
original incarnations, with Mike Pinder’s mellotron and Ray Thomas’ flute ably
providing the orchestral arrangements.

 

These days, the Moody Blues continue to tour, but Pinder and
Thomas have long since departed, leaving Hayward,
bassist John Lodge, drummer Graeme Edge and younger, newer recruits to
replicate their live legacy.   It also
finds them emphasizing their more obvious crowd-pleasers while leaving many of
the gems heard here languishing in the archives. As a result, the true devotee
will find Live at the Isle
of Wight Festival 1970
a fine flashback and a good excuse to
revisit the band’s better material.

 

Stand-out tracks: “Never Comes the
Day,” “Tuesday Afternoon,” “Ride My See Saw” LEE ZIMMERMAN

 

Rosebuds – Life Like

January 01, 1970

(Merge)

 

www.mergerecords.com

 

The Rosebuds –
Kelly Crisp and Ivan Howard – return to a calmer, quieter sound for their
fourth album. This N.C. husband/wife duo appear to reinvent their sound with
each release so it was not a surprise that Life
Like
isn’t a synthesized sonic sister to 2007’s Night of the Furies. Crisp and Howard share lead vocal duties,
making for a nice exchange song after song. A quaint number such as “Nice Fox,”
(a little ditty that is literally about a fox) includes acoustic guitar
strumming and the singers’ humming; the melody slowly grows on you and initially-nonsensical
words creep into your subconscious. (You too will begin humming to the lyric “don’t
dig up the dandelions.”)

 

Yet don’t let
the acoustics fool you: though no synths are heard on Life Like, Crisp and Howard are quite capable of striking the proverbial
“dancing chord” with songs like “Bow to the Middle,” and “Cape Fear.”

 

Standout Tracks: “Concordian Music Club,” “In the
Backyards” APRIL S. ENGRAM

 

 

Kimya Dawson – Alphabutt

January 01, 1970

(K)

 

www.krecs.com

 

Kimya Dawson’s appeal has
always resided in the child-like vulnerability in her songs, moving from
poignant, affecting lines to non-sequitur word play and back again. So it would
seem that a kids’ record would only be natural. And at moments, Alphabutt is. But mostly, it’s
insufferably cloying.

 

“Pee-Pee in the Potty” annoys
instead of instructs, and the title track finds its charm wearing off after the
2nd or 3rd scatological reference – which is to say, by
the letter G. When Dawson
sheds the “kid’s music” shtick, though, the charm is back. “Happy Home (Keep on
Writing)” doesn’t pander but teaches the virtues of contentment and
individuality (“Now I know it’s better if we don’t all sound the same”) to a
gentle, reassuring tune. Similarly, “Sunbeams and Some Beans” pairs playful
lyrics and a lesson on sharing with political commentary. Then we remember why
we liked Dawson
enough to make our kids listen to her.

 

Standout Tracks: “Happy Home (Keep on Writing),” “Sunbeams and Some Beans” BRYAN REED