Monthly Archives: December 2008

National Eye – The Farthest Shore

January 01, 1970

(Park the Van)


At certain moments and in just the right light, Philadelphia’s National
Eye hinted at something transcendent with their first two releases, but left listeners
nearly as frustrated as they were sometimes blown away. But while their latest,
The Farthest Shore, still doesn’t quite
make that memorable grade, the band has certainly closed the gap. That’s a bit
surprising in itself given the record’s fitful history: Originally conceived as
a musical movie about a young man on a quest to find someone he inadvertently
turned invisible, the songs were written to mirror the adventures that follow
(“featuring a type of animation that hasn’t been invented yet,” reads the
one-sheet). When it became clear the visual element wasn’t going to happen, the
12 songs recorded – which were never intended as a concept record, per se — were
released and left to stand on their own. (Note that this is a digital-only release
and not available on CD or vinyl.)


And that they do, sometimes quite spectacularly, as the band
creates an accommodatingly spacey aesthetic that seamlessly envelops loping
orchestrated pop (“Slow Boat to Trinidad,” which echoes Donavon’s “Atlantis”), strings-and-guitars
twang (the Neil Young-like “Installed in the Dark”), Granddaddy-esque psychotropic
excursions (“The Effortless Plane”), and even lounge-y jazz rock burnished with
odd-but-not-overbearing synth noise (“Through Fields of Fixed Stars”).


Despite eschewing simple hooks and easy-bake verse-verse-chorus
recipes, National Eye’s inclinations veer pop-ward as often as they do toward the
adventurous — if there’s an Achilles heel it’s that those opposable ideas still
make a song or two sound unsure which direction its headed in, and you wonder what
might happen if they toned down one element in favor of the other and, say,
made a more obvious pop record. Penultimate track “Pure Film,” with its pulsing
rhythms and slo-burn build to crescendo, hints that they’d probably be quite
good at one.


Still, with a narrative bent that, even in the most
straight-forward song, includes the line “I think I’m gonna cut off my ear/I’ve
been thinking that for several years,” maybe it’s best National Eye stick to its
own formula, especially since the dividends are growing. In the end, the original
songs-to-a-film conceit seems to have helped focus the band toward a sound more
their own after their first two full-lengths — while full of promise —
suggested a band still at battle with several stylistic version of itself. They
may yet attain greatness, too, because The
Farthest Shore
doesn’t seem that far away.


 “Slow Boat to Trinidad,” “Pure Film” JOHN SCHACHT




Strawbs – The Broken Hearted Bride

January 01, 1970

(Witchwood Media)


In the overall scheme of things, the Strawbs may be confined
to that category referred to as the also-rans, an unappreciated sphere where
deserving artists garner appreciation only from diehard fans even as they fail
to gain notice from the world at large. 
Granted, they deserved better; after releasing a string of exemplary
albums in the lat ‘60s/early ‘70s and making an unlikely transition from folk
to prog (and providing home turf for Rick Wakeman prior to his tenure with
Yes), they received enough attention and acclaim from FM and college radio to
thrust them to the brink of a big breakthrough. 
Sadly, even the support of a major record label — A&M — failed to
put them over the edge, and after peaking early on with albums like Songs From The Witchwood, Grave New World and Bursting At The Seams, the band reaped diminished returns as the
‘70s wore on.  The band’s sole mainstay,
Dave Cousins, attempted to keep the branding going with a revolving cast of
musicians, but in time it became clear that the group had overstayed its
welcome as they slipped deeper into undeserved obscurity.


Cousins would eventually put aside his musical pursuits and
delve into the world of radio programming, but towards the end of the ‘80s, he
opted to revive the group, reconvene various band mates, and journey back to
the world of recording under the aegis of his own label, Witchwood.  Various archival albums, live releases and
Cousins solo efforts have made up the bulk of the Strawbs offerings ever since,
but with the Broken Hearted Bride,
Cousins and company get back to the business of recording a comeback. 


Former fans will undoubtedly view this development with
heightened expectations, especially given the sky-high standard set by their
earlier outings.  Indeed, those looking
for a return to the classic sound that was anchored by Cousins’ biting vocals,
the sweeping keyboards and a steadfast strum will be treated to more than a
trace of déjà vu.  No, Broken Hearted Bride doesn’t hit the
highs of the aforementioned string of epoch LPs, and truth be told, it’s closer
in content to the band’s later outlay. 
For the most part, the arrangements are largely overblown, a sound that
once found favor on AOR radio courtesy of bands like Styx,
Journey and others of that ilk.  However,
it also finds a surprising concession to World music, especially in the
book-ending “The Call To Action” and “Action Replay.”   And as if to reassure the faithful, there’s
a touching reprise of an archival offering, the tender, touching “We’ll Meet
Again Sometime,” a track that was a staple from their earliest incarnation.


Ultimately, Bride‘s
best material is also its most effusive – “Christmas Cheer” with its affirming
refrain that repeats over and over the perfect chant for our times,
“Everything’s gonna be alright”; the persistent pull of “Deep in the Darkest
Night”; and an effusive and exuberant “You Know As Well As I.”  While they don’t make Broken Hearted Bride the cheeriest prospect, it should at very
least put Strawbs’ faithful in a merry mood.


“Christmas Cheer (Everything’s Gonna Be Alright),” “Deep in
the Darkest Night,” We’ll Meet Again Sometime” LEE ZIMMERMAN


Sparks – Exotic Creatures of the Deep

January 01, 1970





Sparks has
always been a band that deals with contrasts. Russell Mael’s pretty boy looks
clashed with brother Ron’s scowl and Hitler moustache from their earliest days.
At its best, their music combined the pop melodies with witty struggles of
everyday folk and the well-to-do, the best of their discography sounding catchy
but not too clever, smart but not smug.



In the
past, their song titles have often previewed the band’s lyrical depth. This
time, titles like “I Can’t Believe that You Would Fall For All The Crap In This
Song,” “The Director Never Yelled ‘Cut'” and “Lighten Up, Morrissey” would seem
to continue this tradition, although the latter’s musical reference goes
against the timelessness Sparks usually employs. So it’s frustrating to hear a
group that was once so literate resort to using the titles as punch lines,
which get repeated ad nauseum. The verses of “I Can’t Believe,” are built on
insipid clichés with the chorus delivering the title. Knowing the band’s track
record, these sound more like outlines than the finished song. “Lighten Up,
Morrissey” at least sounds hooky, setting up the tale of a fellow who can’t
measure up to the standards of his date’s favorite singer.



the joke has been established few of the songs get developed further. The
one-chord pounding works in “Let the Monkey
Drive,” in which Russell’s simian friend allows
him to get lucky in the backseat during a road trip. But the relentless “(She
Got Me) Pregnant” and “Strange Animal” drag on too long, with minimal melodies
that are pretty plain for someone like Ron Mael.



Standout Tracks: “Let
the Monkey Drive,”
“This is the Renaissance.” MIKE SHANLEY


Thievery Corporation – Radio Retaliation

January 01, 1970

(ESL Music)

There is no doubt that Thievery Corporation’s core duo, Rob Garza and Eric
Hilton, are talented electronic music producers well versed in both world music
and DJ culture. The problem with the beats and compositions they make is that
it is often bogged down in mid-tempo car-commercial-ready tones and themes that
don’t require much from the listener. Perhaps Radio Retaliation was never meant as a challenge. But as the
Corporation mines Middle Eastern, Jamaican, Latin American, and African culture
for their samples and ideas, as well as their guest vocalists, the music
listlessly falls into the murky and broad moat of “world music.”


There are some inspired moments, such as the opening
dub/reggae tune, featuring Sleepy Wonder, “Sound the Alarm,” and the
revolutionary-spouting jazz of “Retaliation Suite.” Elsewhere, Femi Kuti, Seu
Jorge, and Zee all lend their tuneful vocal talents to the record. Great as
background music for a clothing store or cocktail lounge, there’s just not
enough bite on Radio to make one want
to come back for more.



“Beautiful Drug,” “Sound the Alarm” JONAH


Ollabelle – Before This Time

January 01, 1970

(Yep Roc)


It’s hardly
usual for a band’s third album to be live and have something of a greatest hits
slant by including five previously recorded songs out of the 10 on this disc.
But Ollabelle is hardly your usual band.


As the deeply
rooted American music group got its start playing a small club on New York’s Lower East Side,
a live album makes perfect sense. The trajectory of their two previous albums,
both studio affairs on two different major labels, found the first most
impressive and the second far less so, making this indie release feel like a
re-entrenchment. Whatever the case, in performance is where this act shines.
And where its atmospheric extended arrangements – all but three songs exceed
five minutes long, and two go more than seven – crackle in a way that studio
recordings can’t usually capture.


creates what can be called both soul and mood music, though not to tag it as
R&B (which is in their music, though more its gospel and blues antecedents)
nor as easy listening (even if Ollabelle’s music feels as comfortable as God’s
own couch). And these concert recordings beautifully capture the band’s organic
musical vibe, one that draws from deep within the American soil of styles to
create a sound that sounds utterly natural if not preordained, not unlike The
Band. Which makes sense even if it’s too often the easy comparison because one
of the band’s singers is Amy Helm, daughter of Band singer and drummer Levon
Helm (who drums on the final track here).


But the way
Ollabelle colors “Ain’t No More Cane,” a song The Band also did, proves that
they’ve got their own stamp, albeit one of many colors, a good many of them
dusky. It’s a feel that brings spooky new dimensions to what could be a hoary
standard, “Saints” (Go Marching In), brings out the vibrant spirit of a New
Orleans second line marching into the Full Gospel Tabernacle on “Before This
Time,” and makes the slow-burning “Soul of a Man” truly feel like the struggle
between salvation and damnation. Their similar crafty way with modern covers
makes the Grateful Dead’s “Brokedown
Palace” sound decades
older than its origin, and on everything, the band’s playing is as choral as
its singing. A lack of originals – this act’s weakest link in a thick chain of
strengths – suggests this CD might be a holding action. But if so, Ollabelle
treads water head and shoulders if not feet above most anyone else mining the
American musical tradition in this modern age.


Standout Tracks: “Brokedown Palace,”
“Ain’t No More Cane,” “Before This Time” ROB PATTERSON


We Landed on the Moon – These Little Wars

January 01, 1970




Releasing their second album, We Landed on the Moon seem to
be finding their musical niche. With Melissa Eccles’s lead vocals, the group
has a throwback sound. Almost as if Blondie had ever sung indie rock songs;
then, she would have fit in perfectly with We Landed on the Moon. The Yeah Yeah
Yeahs and Feist also come to mind while listening to this sophomore effort.



These Little Wars begins with “Solitaire,” a fun piece of power pop with an odd title but great
dance beats. “The Night was Open” proves that meaningful lyrics also accompany
the bouncy tunes, and Eccles’s high register is a nice thing to focus on,
singing lines like “the night was full of stars – take what wasn’t ours.”
“Vietcong” also showed the deep side to poppy music, but clocking in as one of
the shortest tracks, this one didn’t mix the solemn subject with the beats as
seamlessly as others.



The poetic story of a pack rat finds a hauntingly harmonized
ending with “Washing for Weeks,” a great little song that Eccles has fun
singing and the rest of the group seems to enjoy performing. Every album needs
a token break-up song too, and this one has the clever title: “Re: Your Letter”
(which, for those of you currently living under a rock, spoofs the subject line
of e-mail responses).The group also twists the idea of a fairy tale in a modern
look at Cinderella with “Mirror, Mirror” (“running fast, leaving my shoes with
my hands reached out”).



A hint of Irish band the Cranberries also presents itself
throughout the album as We Landed on the Moon give eleven solid tracks of
immediate dance music with a deeper meaning underneath the guitar and



Standout Tracks: “The Night Was Open,” “Re: Your Letter,” “Mirror, Mirror” MANDY RODGERS


Magic Slim & the Teardrops – Midnight Blues

January 01, 1970

(Blind Pig Records)



With a smooth hand and raspy voice, Magic Slim, backed by
his band, the Teardrops, guides you through original and covers of blues tunes,
taking you back in time to the days of the thriving Chicago blues scene.



Proud of the fact that he uses nothing but an old Gibson Les
Paul and an amp, Slim displays raw blues talent similar to those that he
admired as a young, struggling musician in Chicago. Don’t think that a cotton gin
accident, leaving him with an unusable pinky finger, would leave him down and
out. If anything, the accident proved to be an inspiration for Slim to become a
better musician and move to Chicago from Mississippi, where the
legend would be born.



Joined by the Teardrops, featuring Jon McDonald
(guitar/vox), Danny O’Conner (bass) and Lenny Media (drums/vox), this powerful
quartet brings songs like “Spider In My Stew” and “Carla” to life by joining
together to create a slow, melodically churning blues progressions, leaving the
listener transfixed in the groove. Tunes later in the album like “Loving You is
the Best Thing that Happened to Me” and “Full Load Boogie” turn up the heat,
encouraging listeners to “boogie” along as Slim tears it up on guitar behind
Lenny’s tight-hitting snare and O’Conner’s thumping bass.



If you pride yourself as a blues fanatic and love the style
of the old Mississippi blues, this baby is for you. Slim’s name should never be
left out of discussion when it comes to the great blues players of our, and
maybe before, our time. As he continues to rock small blues clubs around the United States,
he will keep on proving why the best days of the blues didn’t die with the
legends that created it.



Standout Tracks: “Going
Down the Road Feeling Bad,” “Spider In My Stew” MATTHEW RECCHIA


Red Krayola – Fingerpointing

January 01, 1970



I say that its “freeform freakouts” are its best songs. But
in actuality, this version of Fingerpainting,
Red Krayola’s 1999’s whimsically noisy recording from Mayo Thompson and friends
(new guys like David Grubbs, old Reds like George Hurley) is one long
blip-a-tronic remix.


Done in the presence of/by Jim O’Rourke simultaneous to the
original recording, only Thompson’s squirrelly small yelp is thoroughly and
soundly in place, while the original instrumentation gets morphed and softened.
Magically, O’Rourke doesn’t blunt Tom Watson and Sandy Yang or any other
musician’s intent: just cushions the blows of moments like “Vile Vile Grass,”
“Mother” and “In My Baby’s Ruth” with these Noh freakouts of his.


And really, Thompson, especially on “Bad Medicine” never
sounded sexier.


Standout Tracks: all
the “Freeform Freakouts” A.D. AMOROSI


Fucked Up – The Chemistry of Common Life

January 01, 1970



As a genre dedicated to its roots, punk often walks a
razor-thin line between blind copycat-ism or heavy-handed cross-pollination. Toronto’s
Fucked Up takes that line, forges it into a blade and uses it to spill blood on
any existing preconceptions of what punk rock is supposed to be -when really, punk was never supposed to be anything. Who cares if hardcore punk’s greatest hope
unveils its Matador debut with a flute solo? It fits the song (“Son The
Father”), which rolls out of that feather-light opening into a palm-muted
chugging so insistent you’d think you were running stairs with Rocky for the whole
of its slow crescendo.


And who cares if the production values fit a band whose
label boasts major distribution? Again, the music is only helped by Fucked Up’s
creative decisions. It’s always seemed as if Fucked Up was as musically thoughtful
as it was urgent and indignant. The Chemistry
of Common Life
is no disappointment. This band doesn’t fit any mold, just
squeezes and rip its way into any it finds, like a fat dude in Joey Ramone’s


Standout Tracks: “Son
The Father,” “No Epiphany” BRYAN REED


Cowboy Mouth – Fearless

January 01, 1970

(Valley Entertainment)


They’re something akin to homegrown heroes in their native New Orleans, but the
foursome that calls itself Cowboy Mouth has also maintained a fairly
predictable path up to this point.  With
a devoted fan following and a journeyman ethic, they’ve churned out album after
album, on labels large and small, while garnering only varying degrees of
notice.  However this time around, intentionally
or otherwise, their sound seems somewhat schizophrenic. 


The group – still under the aegis of its two mainstays, Fred
LeBlanc and John Thomas Griffith — take the title of their latest opus to
bizarre extremes, offering up a set of songs that runs the gamut from barbed
invectives to plaintive platitudes, while plying little middle ground
in-between.  Even a casual listen makes
this clear; after initiating the proceedings with the unusually angry and aggressive
riposte of “Anything,” and following it with the voyeuristic vibe of “Belly”
(“I love your mind/But I love your ass/So turn the lights off fast!”), the band
abruptly change their tack and offer apologies via “Tell The Girl Ur Sorry”
before channeling even loftier sentiments with an ode to affirmation simply
titled “I Believe.” 


It’s a quick turnaround and a weird dichotomy, and even
though succeeding songs tap their usual rock regimen, the sentiments ricochet
wildly all the way to the album’s end. 
How else to explain the emotional expanse dividing “Kelly Ripa,” an
irreverent paean to Regis’ better half, and “Maureen,” a touching coda written
by LeBlanc in the wake of his mother’s passing?   True, Fearless may be bold, but it’s also kind of a Cowboy Mouthful.


“Kelly Ripa,” “I Believe,” “Maureen” LEE ZIMMERMAN