Monthly Archives: November 2008

Megapuss – Surfing

January 01, 1970

(Vapor)

 

 

www.vaporrecords.com

 

 

If you thought Devendra Banhart already got his fun-loving,
free-spirited, ambisexual side out in records like Cripple Crow and Smokey Rolls
Down Thunder
Canyon
, you ain’t
seen nothin’ yet. Megapuss, Banhart’s guest-studded partnership with
Priestbird’s Greg Rogove, is a giggling, tickling, free-ranging orgy of musical
styles, full of inside jokes and porno-aspiring imagery. This is, after all,
the band that debuted in LA with Banhart in a penis skirt.

 

And yet, Banhart being Banhart, Surfing has as many moments of beauty as it does occasions for smirks. The title cut is
particularly gorgeous, flurries of classical piano expanding into waves and
rolls of 1960s psychedelia. “Mister Meat (Hot Rejection)” is as silly as can
be, but it is sandwiched between the lo-fi, ukulele-and-tambourine hippie
glories of “Lavender Blimp” and the strung-out, unshaven blues of “Hamman.”  As always Banhart plunders the back catalogs
of rock, blues, psych and soul. Sometimes he does this subtly, as on the 1960s
driving “Adam and Steve.” Other times, the lift is more blatant. “A Gun On His
Hip And A Rose On His Chest” is a scantily disguised, reworded “Hey Bo Diddley”
(which has some verses Bo would likely not approve of).

 

Banhart has gathered a typically motley crew to accompany him – frequent
flyers like Andy Cabic and Rodrigo Amarante, alongside new tribe members like
Fabrizio Moretti (yes, from the Strokes). They all seem to be having a hella
good time… and if you can get past the naked cover art, you probably will as
well.

 

Standout Tracks: “Surfing”, “Older Lives”
“Adam & Steve” JENNIFER KELLY

 

Scissormen – Luck In A Hurry

January 01, 1970

(Vizztone)

 

www.vizztone.com

 

Rockcrit Ted Drozdowski has spent the better part of a lifetime dissecting the
corpus delicti of both rawk and blooze, so it should come as no surprise to
anybody or their mother that the cat has absorbed a few musical chops of his
own in the process. Take a dash o’ Junior Kimbrough and that ole Mississippi
Hill Country sound, throw in a soupcon of Son House/Robert Johnson styled Delta
sharecropper vibe, and stir throughout with loudly amped garage-punk aesthetic
(I’m thinking Sky Saxon here, folks) and you have the steel-toed ‘drum-punter
that is the Scissormen’s debut LP, Luck In
A Hurry
.

 

Slap this tasty little sucker on yer box and Luck In A Hurry will save you time by
peeling the paint and plaster from the walls of any room you’d like to
renovate. Ted D’s vocals sound like Jonathan Richman with a mouthful of dirty
marbles, but he coaxes sounds out of his battered guitar that sound like
nothing made by man, beast, nor electronic gadgetry.

 

Drummer Rob Hulsman, a veteran hisself of cowpunk
room-clearers Nine Pound Hammer, slaps-and-tickles the cans like a man with a
fever, providing a downright wicked big-beat thunder for Droz to rein lightning
down upon. When Hulsman’s not around, a skin-blaster by the name of Larry
Dersch picks up the sticks and lays down the law with equal sonic aplomb.

 

“The proof is in the pudding,” as granny used to
say, and the Scissormen stumble, mumble and snort their way through these
(mostly original) tunes like a drunken bull in a china shop. Droz winds up his
axe until it sounds like the ass-end of a jet engine for a cover of Son House’s
“Death Letter,” alternating dark, soulful vocal passages in the
master’s voice with white-light blasts of six-string fury. “Junior’s
Blues” is a fitting tribute to the Mississippi
blues great, feedback-laden nails-on-the-fretboard string-scrape matched by
Droz’s street-smart lyrics and downtuned vocals.

 

A manic reading of the traditional “John The
Revelator” hits your ears like an acid-washed, speed-demon fever-dream
while “When The Devil Calls” is Skip James-styled country-blues that
sounds like it was torn from an cracked 78 and features Drozdowski’s most
subtle, nuanced and thus powerful vocal/six-string evocation. “Mattie
Sweet Mattie” updates the Parchman Farm blues mythology with a touch of
barrelhouse piano and waves of disturbo-fretwork supporting a tale of
tribulation. By the time that Dan Kellar’s fiddle cries its way in, you’ve been
sentenced to a life in the blues.

 

Luck In A Hurry delivers
plenty of greasy juke-joint blues, deliberate and menacing and sounding like a
million smackeroos, with enough slow-burning flame to satisfy the dwindling
purist ranks, and enough distortion, angst and crackling energy to appeal to
the Guitar Hero addicted masses.
Scissormen is kinda like a shot of my old pal Mr. Beach’s home-brewed
shine…rough as hell going down, but it lights a nice fire in the belly.

 

Standout Tracks: “Death
Letter,” “When The Devil Calls” REV. KEITH A. GORDON

 

 

 

 

 

Stackridge – The Forbidden City + Anyone For Tennis?-Sound & Vision

January 01, 1970

(Angel Air)

 

(www.angelair.co.uk)

 

Few people, even diehard retro aficionados, remember an
early ‘70s English band called Stackridge, and even fewer would likely say they
cared even if they did.  So leave it to
one of Britain’s
most avid archival labels, Angel Air, to reintroduce the band for a current
crop of Brit pop enthusiasts via an ongoing series of re-releases of the band’s
seminal albums.  The latest of these come
in the form of belated additions to the band’s canon — Anyone For Tennis? Sound & Vision , a greatest hits of sorts with
accompanying DVD, and  The Forbidden City , a recent reunion
concert that transpired nearly 35 years after their initial incarnation went
their merry ways.  And while it may be
too late for Stackridge to attain any modicum of the fame and fortune that
eluded them in their prime, a case could be made that for a deserving ensemble
such as this, any attempt – even three and a half decades on — is still none
too late.

 

Of course, one should expect there would be ample evidence as
to why anyone other than their original diehard devotees should care about
Stackridge resurfacing.  So fortunately, these
two double discs offer the uninitiated an enticing backwards glance of the
group in all their glory via the cream of their catalogue.  While Anyone
For Tennis?
 offers a basic
compilation/compendium (as well as a DVD of the aforementioned The Forbidden
City performance),  The Forbidden City  proper
may be the most impressive of the two due to the band’s ability to effectively
recreate their legacy live.  Boasting the
bulk of their staples – as well as a nod to the Korgis, the band’s equally
worthy offshoot — it finds the band reclaiming their legacy with unflagging
enthusiasm and meticulous musical precision.

 

That’s no small feat at this point; given their giddy,
unflappable and unfailingly cheery allegiance to basic pop precepts,
Stackridge’s sound requires a deft touch and a flexible stroke.  Similar in stance to Paul McCartney, Squeeze
or Madness, songs such as “Grooving Along the Highway on a Monday Morning
Once,” “Lummy Days,” “Anyone for Tennis” and “Everybody’s Got to Learn Sometime”
(the latter a Korgis chestnut) are both arched and effusive, not to mention
remarkably unselfconscious considering the wit and whimsy invested in these
melodic ditties.  So while Anyone for Tennis is fine for starters,
it takes The Forbidden
City
to prove — its intimidating title aside — that catching
up on guilty pleasures like these can be ever so liberating.

 

Standout
tracks:
“Grooving Along the Highway on a Monday Morning Once,”
“Lummy Days,” “Anyone for Tennis” LEE ZIMMERMAN

 

 

Rachael Yamagata – Elephants… Teeth Sinking Into Heart

January 01, 1970

(Warner Bros.)

www.warnerbrothers.com

 

 

Conceived as some sort of mini-opera, you can think instead
of Philadelphian Yamagata’s bunch of dramas as musky dusted soap opera cut
through the viciousness of PJ Harvey tackling Ricki Lee Jones Volcano period.

 

With Bright Eyes producer Mike Mogis along for the bumpy,
lush rude, Yamagata’s
smoked almond smolder is emboldened, hurtful, hurt and all the things that you
can think go with a pained break-up. She takes her time ripping old wounds and
old loves – the “Don’t fuck me in front of me” of “Don’t”;
the arched-back ache of “Sunday Afternoon” – without allowing it to
take her down. Elephants is a fighter
and a biter; a hushed morose chamber thing that got slapped and snapped back
with the teeth to rock out with angular fuzz tone guitars and filth encrusted
drums as if she’s never cleaned them after the bust-up.

 

Really really lovely and fucked-up is this record.

 

 

Standout Tracks: “Don’t,”
“Elephants” A.D. AMOROSI

 

 

Sing Me Back Home

January 01, 1970

(Faber
& Faber)

www.fsgbooks.com

I
read Sing Me Back Home the same week
that Jerry Reed died, which seemed somehow fitting. Not just because it’s a
book about country music and Reed was a great country musician, singer and
songwriter but because of the kind of
country performer Reed was. Songs like “Amos Moses,” “The Bird,” and even “East
Bound and Down” from Smokey and the
Bandit
are just this side of parody, saved from novelty status by the fact
that Reed’s cornpone humor, exaggerated hillbilly vocals, and redneck aphorisms
all came from an insider’s perspective, delivered with affection and intimacy
rather than scorn and detachment.

Sing Me Back
Home
is that kind of book. On one hand, it reinforces almost every damned hillbilly
stereotype in the book-hard-drinking, quick to fight, not too bright,
promiscuous. On the other hand, well, Jennings is writing about his own family
and his own life, and his portrait of his people is as loving as it is
unflinching. Growing up in Kingston, New Hampshire-yes, Virginia, there are
hillbillies north of the Mason-Dixon line-in extreme poverty in the 1950s,
Jennings couldn’t wait to get out, and on his way to becoming a New York Times editor, he rejected his
people just as adamantly as he rejected the country music that gave them succor
and solace in the face of squalor and heartbreak. Over the years, though,
Jennings realized that to reject them was to reject himself, and Sing Me Back Home is both a moving tale
of coming to terms with your past and an exceptionally insightful and
illuminating look at country music’s role in American lives.

As
music criticism, the book obviously owes a huge debt to David Cantwell and Bill
Friskics-Warren’s Heartaches by the
Number
, which in turn owes a debt to Dave Marsh’s Heart of Rock and Soul (the debt would be evident even if Jennings
didn’t cop to it in the acknowledgements). All of them write about the music
absolutely without pretension and with an emphasis on how an entire
record-music, lyrics, and performance-works in a sort of call-and-response with
the listener, echoing, amplifying, and sometimes even clarifying our own
experiences. Dividing the book into chapters around common themes-yes, prison, trucks,
drinking, and mothers are included, but so are home, social status, death, and
spirituality-Jennings alternates between family biography and reflections on
particular songs and artists. All the usual suspects like Hank Williams, Merle
Haggard, Patsy Cline, and Loretta Lynn are here, but so are names less familiar
to those outside country music: The Bailes Brothers, Brother Claude Ely, and
Billy Lee Riley. (The book’s primary fault lies in the fact that Jennings
believes that, save for Iris Dement, there hasn’t been a decent country singer
since roughly 1970.)

Jennings
also alternates between a terse journalist’s style and the language of his
people, often within the same paragraph, sometimes within the same
sentence-i.e., “Most of us Americans, for better or worse, don’t know what real
work is no more” or “Plain as barn cats, my relations and I all lived in ‘the
other America,’ busted, hurting, silent.” It’s a bold rhetorical move, one that
could have backfired, but Jennings’ prose is sure enough that it feels
completely natural-and for Jennings, like most of us, it probably is, even
though we’re taught to write one way and speak another.

And
over it all lords the shadow of the author’s Grammy Jennings, a woman he says
only wanted to “fuck and drink,” a woman who, like Patsy Cline, knows “what it
is to go walkin’ after midnight searching for her man, to fall to pieces, to be
crazy-you don’t go chasing your oldest son with a butcher knife if you ain’t
crazy.” Grammy is her grandson’s spiritual and emotional lighthouse, someone
who, like the best country music, is full of both heartache and joy (but mostly
heartache), the spirit that sings Jennings back home to who he really is, with
neither sentimentality nor illusion. ERIC SCHUMACHER-RASMUSSEN

Vivian Girls – Vivan Girls

January 01, 1970

(In the Red)

 

www.intheredrecords.com

Fuck you, Pipettes, we’re all listening to Vivian Girls now because they
actually play their own instruments. OK, so maybe it’s a little sexist to lump
two girl bands together, because after all, Vivian Girls aren’t just a “girl”
band, they’re a “band” band, right?

 

Well, yes and no. The Girls’ layered vocal harmonies and
echo-chamber recording sound like a lo-fi Phil Spector Wall of Sound. But this
Brooklyn-based band injects oodles of punk rock spirit, power chords, and
technique into its ‘60s pop. The Girls seem to be referencing the Pixies at
certain times and the Ramones at others, in their guitar and bass tones, as
well as one-word rave-ups like “No.” But the album’s best moment is the low-key
and calmed-down “Where Do You Run To,” where a chugging bass and syncopated
snare allow some more nuanced and effective singing to ring out. The vocals
aren’t always exactly in tune, but somehow it doesn’t matter.

 

Is this a great band? No, but it’s a good band, keeping
things simple and catchy.

 

 

Standout Tracks:  “Where Do You Run To”, “No” JONAH FLICKER

 

Electric Six – Flashy

January 01, 1970

(Metropolis)

 

www.metropolis-records.com

 

Electric
Six may never release another album as giddily fun and consistently catchy as
their 2003 debut Fire, and they damn
sure won’t ever have a song get as much attention as did the irresistible “Gay
Bar” from that record. But after a trio of relatively uninspired retreads of
that debut’s admittedly unique hybrid of new wave, disco, and power pop,
they’ve finally made another disc worth listening to as much for its sound as
for Dick Valentine’s deliciously dumb lyrics.

 

Don’t
fret, Flashy‘s got plenty of stupid
to go around, from the housekeeping-meets-international-espionage of “Formula
409” to the occult sexuality of “We Were Witchy Witchy White Women.” And the
biggest goof of all is the album’s opener, “Gay Bar Part Two,” which has
absolutely nothing but its title in common with its precursor, a ploy Valentine
happily admits is a shameless attempt to sell a few more copies.

 

But
the music here succeeds on its own merits-chock full o’ power chords, retro
synths, skronking saxes, singalong choruses, even a vocoder, for chrissakes-so
that even when Valentine sings “she’s a nine-to-fiver/got evil up inside
her/she’s a graphic designer,” you actually give a shit. It’s tempting to write
them off as mere postmodern goofs, but Electric Six are no joke.

 

Standout
Tracks:
“Formula 409,” “Graphic Designer” ERIC SCHUMACHER-RASMUSSEN

 

R.E.M. – Murmur Deluxe Edition [reissue]

January 01, 1970

(IRS/Ume)

 

www.universalchronicles.com

 

So – those were the days, weren’t they, my friends? That
elusively brief, don’t-blink-we-don’t-wanna-miss-it point in the early eighties
right after the punk/post-punk dust had settled, just before the underground
commenced going overground, and when innocence was measured by your willingness
to plant an impetuous smooch on the cheek of a beautiful girl purely because
she had the “right” band logo on her tee or notebook.

 

Where were you in
’82? The “right” band was R.E.M., and I was in North Carolina, just a few kudzu
vines’ north of Athens, GA. By that point R.E.M. was a long-established part of
the dialogue. The group’s first road trip outside their home state had taken
them to Carrboro (near Chapel Hill) and
Raleigh, and in the aftermath of those and other R.E.M. shows my and my
friends’ devotion to the band was utter. I’d even bought a box full of Hib-Tone
45s for whenever I might encounter a nonbeliever, and when the Chronic Town EP came out I played it so
often at the record store I was working at that a couple of my more classic
rock-inclined coworkers had taken to misfiling the record on purpose. Bootleg
concert tapes of the band, often recorded with the blessings of Michael, Peter,
Mike and Bill and therefore usually of a pretty fine quality, were passed
around like religious tracts.

 

Needless to say, when the Murmur album rolled around the next year, in ’83, I was primed.

 

And again, now, 25 years later, with Universal’s two-disc,
remastered/expanded “Deluxe Edition” of Murmur. After a quarter-century’s worth of commentary on a record that regularly
figures on “Greatest Records Of All Time” lists, recapping the backstory
certainly isn’t needed here. And besides, essays and interviews (producers
Mitch Easter and Don Dixon in particular) dotting the reissue’s hefty booklet
take care of that quite nicely, if for some reason you need to refresh
yourself.

 

Nor is there much point in breaking down anew these
oft-dissected tunes and the utter uniqueness of the album as a sonic artifact –
you can find plenty of that in books
and on the web – other than to say that even now, in 2008, Murmur sounds fresh. There’s a hunger and a spontaneity that
shudders between the songs’ notes, a twinned ambition/naiveté that perhaps only
comes once in any artist’s career – particular when it’s a band that almost
immediately catapulted (no pun intended) into the public’s consciousness
following the album’s release. Once you’re at the top of the college radio charts,
regularly featured on MTV and appearing on the covers of the British music
weeklies, you can no more return to that earlier state of innocence than you
can take back that kiss you planted on the beautiful girl’s cheek.

 

Everyone owns a copy of Murmur;
do they need a fresh one? That’s always a relevant question when considering
reissues. (How many times can you repurchase the David Bowie or Elvis Costello
back catalogs, hmmm?) In this instance, the answer’s an unequivocal “yes.”

 

The album was always a landmark recording in terms of the
sound and, for lack of a better word, “vibe” that Dixon and Easter were able to get. Murmur‘s been exquisitely remastered
from the original analog tapes by Greg Calbi (the same man who mastered the LP
at Sterling Sound in 1983, in fact) and it’s now even more staggering in its
clarity and detail. Both Stipe’s lead vocals and the Mills-Berry backing vocals
leap from the speakers (try ‘em out on headphones – you can figure out some of
the lyrics this time!), and the low end is richer, more sonorous while the
vaunted R.E.M. jangles are, well, janglier in that crisp, pick-across-strings way that some wags like to call
“Rickenbackerian.” (Listen to Buck’s contrasting jangly/angular riffing in
“Moral Kiosk” – it’s long been known the guitarist was a diligent student of
pop ‘n’ rock, but here, with those riffs attaining fresh bite, he emerges as
someone who took those lessons to heart and then applied them with precision.) Likewise
the drums; Berry
was always the band’s secret weapon, and now you can hear why. Factor in other
subtleties – backwards instruments swimming around in the mix; keyboards, once
merely textural, newly prominent; sound effects (such as the echoey, colliding
billiard balls in “We Walk”) also being refocused – and you’ve got a record
that will surprise and delight even those who’ve lived with it and returned to
it over and over during the past 25 years.

 

***

 

For all that and more, the reissue merits a “10” and in
truth Murmur probably has always been
a “10” so it would be hard to credibly chip away at the rating. That said, some
quibbles about this “Deluxe Edition” must be voiced, even if they don’t
necessarily diminish the record’s brilliance.

 

One train of thought tends to hold that reissues should be
presented unvarnished with no additional material in order that listeners get
exactly what the band intended them to get in the first place. Fair enough;
here, Disc 1 is the original album with no extras. But then there’s the
pro-bonus tracks camp.  In 1992 a brace
of European I.R.S. reissues of R.E.M. albums came out, each boasting a handful
of intriguing appendices, and Murmur included a cover of the Velvets’ “There She Goes Again” (originally the B-side
of the re-recorded “Radio Free Europe”) and live versions of “Catapult”
(Seattle, 6-27-84), “9-9” (France, 4-20-84) and “Gardening At Night” (France,
4-20-84). All of them fit comfortably on the CD as appealing sonic and
stylistic addendums, and I’m not ready to surrender my copy just yet. It’s not
as if Disc 1 is exactly crammed; there was plenty of room, time-wise, to add
these four songs, so if you’re of the latter mindset, then in a sense this Murmur could have been done better.

 

Of course, Disc 2 is all bonus material, the oft-bootlegged July 9, 1983 R.E.M. concert at Larry’s
Hideaway in Toronto.
It captures the group in full flight and in close Murmur proximity (along with a couple of previews of the
then-unrecorded second LP, Reckoning),
racing unselfconsciously and gleefully through a set list typical for R.E.M. at
the time. But even Disc 2 is slightly problematic. Yes, it’s very cool to have
the live show, but you’re only getting 16 songs of what was actually a 20-song
set, and with Disc 2 only clocking in at 57 minutes, there’s no good reason not to include the additional four songs
(for the record, they were “Wolves, Lower”; “Moral Kiosk”; “Pretty Persuasion”
and a cover of “Moon River”). So for Murmur:
Deluxe Edition
UMe isn’t exactly doing
diehard fans and collectors any favors.

 

(Incidentally, the Larry’s Hideaway show has had an
interesting trajectory over the years. About 45 minutes of it was originally
broadcast over the radio, subsequently generating an oft-traded tape among
collectors. Later, an actual soundboard recording of the entire show surfaced,
and that became an even more-coveted trade artifact, eventually making its way
to bootleg CD (one, among several, titles was R.E.M. Rising, issued by the Red Robin label) and, later, to the
file-sharing communities. Google it and you’ll immediately turn up plenty of
hits if you’re interested in nabbing a torrent.)

 

***

 

Murmur was the
soundtrack to a very, very special time in my life, as it no doubt was for many
of you. I pogo’d to “Radio Free Europe” and slow-waltzed to “We Walk”; I sang
along at the top of my lungs to “Talk About the Passion” even though I had no
idea what the actual lyrics were and I bobbed my head earnestly in time to
“Sitting Still” because it seemed like a very earnest song worth, um, bobbing
along to. Listening to the album now, I can revisit my physical responses to
the album almost as if they are sense memories – like when a guitarist will
tell you that even though he hasn’t played a certain song in ages his muscles somehow
still remember how to guide his hands and arms to the correct locations on the
fretboard.

 

Most of all, I celebrate my lost innocence when I listen to Murmur. I don’t necessarily want it
back, of course. But I do feel it’s important that every now and then we find
ways to pay tribute to our earlier selves. There’s nothing worse than growing
old and in the process forgetting what it felt like to be young once.

 

Standout Tracks: “Pilgrimage,” “Sitting Still,” “Gardening At Night” (live) FRED MILLS

 

 

UPDATE: Since
writing this review I’ve gotten a finished copy of Murmur – I’d been working from an advance set of CDRs and no
booklet/artwork, which, as it turns out, technically isn’t a booklet at all,
but a fold-out poster with the original LP sleeve on one side and sleeve
credits and essays on the other. A cryptic note in the new credits reads,
“Rewind CD2 Track 1 For A Little Surprise”: sure enough, there’s a hidden
track, a little more than a minute in length, of a vintage Murmur radio ad. Nice touch there Ume;
I’ll let you partly off the hook regarding my bonus material comments, above.

 

Also, in the interest of accuracy (or obsession): Since the
review was published, a reader emailed me to let me know that the France ’84
tracks referenced above are in fact not from France at all, but taken from a
radio broadcast from the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago, July 7, 1984. The European
Murmur CD apparently is mislabeled,
most likely due to confusion stemming from the fact that the France songs did
in fact turn up back in the day as B-sides to the British 12-inch for “(Don’t
Go Back To) Rockville.” Thanks to Bo for providing me with this info.  – FM

 

 

Neal Morse – Lifeline

January 01, 1970

(Radiant Records)

 

www.radiantrecords.com

 

 

As the founder of neo-prog legends Spock’s Beard, Neal Morse
carried the torch of ’70s-styled progressive rock throughout the ’80s and ’90s.
In the face of the ever-changing currents of punk, hair metal, grunge, alt-rock
and, finally…ugh…boy bands and pop divas…Morse led his merry pranksters through
a series of albums, both conceptual and otherwise, that championed songwriting,
instrumental virtuosity, and erudite literary sense over the loutishness of
power chords and the glitter of pop-cult celebrity.

 

 

When he left Spock’s Beard to sojourn out on his own after becoming
a born again Christian, Morse had a personal crisis of faith that resulted in
brilliant recordings like Testimony and One, the artist lyrically exploring
his newfound faith in a decidedly prog-oriented musical landscape. With Lifeline, Morse’s ninth solo effort and his
fifth original studio album since breaking with his former band, Morse has
attempted to craft a collection of songs that matches the extended instrumental
compositions of Spock’s Beard with his personal fondness for Beatlesque pop and
his life-affirming, contemporary Christian lyricism.

 

 

It’s a shaky tightrope that Morse is attempting to balance on
here, but Lifeline manages to deliver
without the need for a safety net. With the help of his long-time pals, bassist
Randy George and Dream Theatre drummer Mike Portnoy, Morse mixes his
still-fervent faith with brilliant songcraft and skilled instrumentation. Lifeline is, perhaps, the most overtly
autobiographical of Morse’s work, quite a feat considering his penchant for
confessional lyrics, but it’s also a document of his lifelong journey from the
dark to the light.

 

 

Throughout it all, Morse never comes across as “holier
than thou,” instead sounding joyous and thankful to be making music on his
own terms. Words aside, Lifeline is
Morse’s most animated collection, musically ranging from the almost-metallic
“Leviathan,” a humorous sea-serpent tale with screaming guitarwork
and oddly funky blasts of horn, to the lushly-orchestrated “Fly
High.” The spry folk-rock of “The Way Home” mixes soaring
harmonies with decidedly late-60s Brit-folk acoustic guitar play to create of modern
version of Genesis or the Strawbs.

 

 

The cornerstone of Lifeline,
however, is the twenty-eight-minute-plus masterpiece “So Many Roads.”
An epic song-suite that displays many shades of fanciful coloration, the
backing soundtrack zig-zags from classically-styled keyboard romps and swelling
choruses of grandeur towards folkish lyrics and full-bore rock jams, Morse
masterfully taking the best elements of Yes, the Beatles, Pink Floyd and, yes,
Spock’s Beard, and imbuing them all with his own unique musical vision.  

 

 

As prog-rock continues to grow in popularity with audiences
searching for something other than label-manufactured rock bands and
cookie-cutter singer/songwriters, Neal Morse stands at the forefront of the
movement as a true believer and a trailblazer. When he first brought Christian
themes to progressive rock, there was no little uncertainty as to how prog fans
in the U.S., Europe and Asia would accept Morse’s good intentions. Better than
half-a-decade later, Morse is flying higher than ever, creating music that
incorporates the best of both prog-rock and CCR, reaching fans in both camps in
the process.

 

 

Standout Tracks: “Leviathan,” “So Many Roads” REV. KEITH A. GORDON

 

 

Her Space Holiday – XOXO, Panda And The New Kid Revival

January 01, 1970

(Mush)

 

www.mushrecords.com

 

A sharp departure from the lush,
electronically-derived sounds of Her Space Holiday’s earlier work, this seventh
full-length recalls the laid-back pop of Beulah. Serene in tone, arranged with
tambourines, banjos, acoustic guitar, toy xylophones and found sounds (sirens,
tea kettles, crotchety old voices), the disc has, nevertheless, a melancholy
underbelly.  “Two Tin Cans and a Length
of String” may sound like a shout-along celebration, but it’s about the
preciousness of connection in the face of illness. (“I remember the day
the spot was found/the kids moved back just to help us out/You held yourself
with such dignity”). This and other songs on the album make it clear that
Marc Bianchi has lost someone recently, a parent or grandparent. They are warm,
wonderful songs about loving and saying goodbye. 

 

Not that there aren’t a few silly
love songs to lighten things up. “Sleepy Tigers” rattles along on a
handclap beat, jangly guitar chords punctuating infatuated couplets like
“You’ll make biscuits and I’ll make tea/And curl up close and then fall
asleep/To the sound of no one else, no one else around.”  “Boys and Girls” is even more upbeat,
erupting into gentle burbles of “tra la la la” at the chorus, as
buoyant as a pop soap bubble.  Yet even
love songs have their darker shadings. In “The World Will Deem Us
Dangerous”, the besotted narrator slips a girl a flower. The problem? He
gets it from his father’s open casket. By the time, it gets to the girl’s desk
it is brown, faded and smells of rot, and the girl asks for it to be removed.
You could consider the flower a metaphor for this very appealing album, sweet,
pretty and well-intentioned, but shadowed by close proximity to death.

 

And still, while XOXO plays, it has a drawling ease, a light-as-air touch that reminds you of
Beulah’s When Your Heartstrings Break. Nonchalantly, Bianchi connects
sex and death, transience and memory, art and friendship, and his wispy pop
songs bear the weight without the slightest strain.

 

Standout Tracks: “Sleepy Tigers”, “Two Tin Cans and a Length of String”
JENNIFER KELLY