Monthly Archives: October 2009

U2 – The Unforgettable Fire: Super Deluxe Edition [reissue]

January 01, 1970

(Mercury/Universal)

 

www.islanddefjam.com

 

So this is where it really began.

 

Not U2’s initial lift-off; that was a year earlier, with
1983’s War, and an ensuing world tour
that cemented indelible images of a white flag-brandishing Bono atop
scaffoldings and speaker stacks. With Universal’s ongoing overhaul of the U2
back catalog (which began, somewhat curiously, with 2007’s 20th anniversary
edition of The Joshua Tree before
backtracking to the earliest releases) it’s been possible to have,
retroactively, what amounts to a front-row seat for the musical evolution of
the Irish foursome – the youthful fierceness of 1980’s Boy, the moody soul-seeking of 1981’s October, and of course War and its mini-album sibling Under A Blood
Red Sky
, all reissued last year, fleshed out with bonus tracks and
subjected to some frankly remarkable remastering jobs overseen by The Edge.
Longtime fans may have expressed surprise at the sonic detail, but in a sense
that surprise was compounded by the feeling we were receiving a history lesson
on material we long supposed we’d memorized.

 

Those Deluxe Reissues thus far, then, set the stage for
this, arguably U2’s greatest album. For while some tend to cling to The Joshua Tree on commercial grounds
(it spawned at least four hit singles) and others prefer to cite 1991’s Achtung Baby (for its artistic reinvention;
I’ll confess at times I fall into this camp), The Unforgettable Fire remains a groundbreaking record that quite
literally took the band overground while retaining their core aesthetic and
philosophical principles. Much would change for the band between its arrival in
stores in October ‘84 and the March ’87 release of TJT, but upon close scrutiny of The
Unforgettable Fire: Super Deluxe Edition
, it’s clear that an elemental
purity has survived the test of time and commerce, one in which any U2 fan –
old, new, jaded, energized by the current 360 Tour, or otherwise merely curious
– can take heart.

 

From billowing opening track “A Sort of Homecoming,” with its
myriad deep-mix effects signaling from the outset that the U2/Brian Eno/Daniel Lanois
alliance is a – no pun intended – sound one, to the insistent elegance of
“Pride (In The Name of Love),” a textbook U2 rocker that nevertheless
foreshadows the brand of subtle restraint that would serve the group well in
the future whenever they sensed they’d fallen prey to excess; from the
harrowing yet luminous “Bad,” possibly the best anti-heroin anthem ever because
it eschews dissertation and condemnation in favor of the Christian principle of loving the sinner, to closing
number “MLK,” an atmospheric drone cocooning an otherwise a capella Bono vocal to create a mood distinctively gospel in tone;
The Unforgettable Fire arrives and
departs in just under 43 minutes, yet during that three-fourths of an hour, a
journey has been undertaken that travels much farther than its actual duration
would suggest.

 

That’s something you’ll hear time and time again from U2
devotees who experienced TUF first
time around, during ’84 and ’85.  How U2,
on this album, helped open up young minds that had never pondered the nature
of, say, addiction or racism or spirituality or human rights issues or even the
crushing impact of American culture upon the world; or how TUF offered a credible escape from what was rapidly becoming an
MTV-spawned dead-end milieu of aerodynamically-coiffed synth/dance groups (the
irony being, of course, that MTV had a huge hand in U2’s success); or simply
how, with an engaging mixture of poetry and tough love, framed against a
backdrop of cinematic, widescreen rock ‘n’ roll, U2 stumbled upon the zeitgeist and took everyone along with
them.

 

That much I know; for when I interviewed Bono in the spring
of 1985 during the second US leg of The
Unforgettable Fire
tour, he dwelled upon all the above, and more. Sprawled
across the couch of a dressing room deep in the bowels of the Atlanta Omni arena and taking some liberal post-concert swigs from a bottle of
red wine, Bono talked about the band’s desire to show fans, not necessarily the way, but at least a way to conduct their lives with grace
and mutual respect – to attend the lessons of Gandhi, and Doctor King, and
maybe even a little George Clinton free-your-mind/ass too. He seemed leery of
the band’s looming fame (as we sat, we could hear the sound of kids gathering
outside the loading dock doors in the hopes of scoring autographs), but he
willing accepted the challenge because, well, because at this point in the mid
‘80s, who else in popular music had
the cojones, coupled with an
Irishman’s bloody-minded gift of gab, to be a tutor and a role model? Michael Jackson? Madonna?

 

***

 

As with the previous Deluxe Editions, the remastering job
here is outstanding. What was always a widescreen production is even more so
now – you can chuck your old CD of TUF out the window, for by comparison the music on it sounds like it’s coming in
over a tin can and a string – with nuances peering out from virtually every
corner and fold. Larry Mullen’s drums in particular have an uncommon crispness:
the snare crackles like it’s popcorn being zapped in a microwave, cymbal decay
lingers tantalizingly in the air, the kick drum truly kicks. Those famed Edge arpeggios are guaranteed to set the
listener’s teeth rattling (listen to the shiver-shudder funk of “Wire” for
proof), while Adam Clayton’s bass, seemingly an afterthought at times on the
original LP, is now restored to its intended resonance. Bono’s vocals remain at
the forefront, which means all those trademark huffs and puffs he makes are
more prominent than ever, but some of the attendant shrillness has been dialed
back so the voice’s presence is felt in degrees of warmth, not bluster; on this
album he sounds like a friend, not a preacher. (By the time of Joshua Tree he’d be fully ordained, of
course, but that’s another story, for another time and another place.)

 

Bonus material? Lots. Collectively, the 16 cuts on Disc Two
are far more interesting than the bonus tracks on any of the five other
reissues. There’s the entire Wide Awake
in America
EP, also from ’84, comprising a pair of live recordings (“Bad,”
“A Sort of Homecoming”) and two worthy studio outtakes from the original TUF sessions, “Love Comes Tumbling” and
“The Three Sunrises”; the latter’s subtle, jangly island lilt made it a
non-contender for the album, but the former’s contemplative, romantic tenor
would have fit perfectly. Also present are all the proximate B-sides and club remixes
from this period. The “Celtic Dub Mix” of “Wire” is somewhat superfluous, while
the instrumental “Bass Trap” resembles a generic New Age tune; but “Boomerang
II,” a kind of dubby excursion into Krautrock overlaid with chanting,
extemporaneous vocals, is downright mesmerizing, one of the more essential U2
B-sides.

 

For collectors, the selling point here is the inclusion of
two previously unreleased tunes from the original LP sessions: instrumental
“Yoshino Blossom” features a piano line similar to the one in “New Year’s Day”
plus some eerie psychedelic guitar; “Disappearing Act,” which we’re told was
“recently completed” by U2 specifically for this package, has a nominal vocal from
Bono (I’m guessing it was done during the latterday sessions, but the rhythm
section’s insistent throb and Edge’s arpeggio-and-Frippertronic flourishes combine
to give the track a substantial, satisfying heft.

 

Disc 3 of the Super Deluxe Edition is a DVD (there’s also a
non-super Deluxe Edition comprising just the two CDs) that rounds up most of the
officially-released footage of the band from around the time of TUF. Chief among it: the long-coveted The Making Of The Unforgettable Fire documentary, directed by Barry Devlin (it was originally aired a couple of times
on MTV and eventually saw commercial release on VHS tape), which though
containing far more down time than a good rock doc should, still manages to let
the principals’ (including Eno and Daniel Lanois’) unfiltered personalities
come through. The original and alternate versions of the “Pride” video are
included, as are the clips for “The Unforgettable Fire,” “Bad” and “A Sort of
Homecoming.” Factor in a pair of legendary live appearances, the July 13, 1985
Live Aid concert from Wembley Stadium and the June 15, 1986 “A Conspiracy of
Hope” Amnesty International concert from Giants Stadium, and you’ve got a
pretty good idea of what the band looked and sounded like back in the day.

 

Nowadays, Bono’s mullet appears more than just faintly
ridiculous; it’s like a raccoon crawled up on his head, went to sleep, and
stayed there. But you have to view this in context, and as suggested above,
listening to and understanding The
Unforgettable Fire
in its context is important. At Live Aid, during “Bad,”
Bono starts prowling the boards restlessly, finally jumping down into the pit
where the video crew is located. He scans the crowd, then points, and suddenly
roadies are hauling a young girl over the barrier and taking her over to the
singer.

 

And then – the embrace.

 

Theatrical, sure, but not like Bruce Springsteen-Courtney
Cox/”Dancing In the Dark” theatrical. Recall how, at the time, this sort of
thing really wasn’t done by a rock band, particularly not in huge stadium
setting. As naïve or silly a gesture as such a gesture, on paper, may seem from
a vantage point of nearly a quarter-century, viewing it now it somehow still
rings true. Recall how just a few months before Live Aid Bono had acknowledged,
in our interview, that the times when he could go around and shake every hand,
sign every autograph, even give out a few hugs, would soon be few and far
between. I reckon he found a way around the dilemma. The embrace. That girl, she was a signifier; she was us.

 

I didn’t buy the latest U2 albumNo Line on the Horizon. I listened to it several times while it was
streaming online prior to release and it left me feeling… nothing. Not
“nothing” in the sense of it being a bad or substandard album; it was more like
the tunes just breezed past me without so much as disturbing a hair or lodging
a scent in my nostril. My ass wasn’t moved to follow either. As a music critic,
that happens to me practically on a daily basis, but it’s rarely, if ever,
happened before with U2.

 

Luckily, the staying power of The Unforgettable Fire, a combination of the lingering emotional
resonance of the original LP and the renewed freshness wrought by the reissue,
is partly why I’ll keep coming back to U2. All musical artists have at least
one key, hopefully classic, album in them; U2’s lucky enough to have several,
and that’s why it’s not hard to keep the faith when the inevitable career
misfires happen.

 

I don’t pretend it’s 1984 all over again when I listen to TUF. But I feel good about knowing that
I was there when it was happening in
real time.

 

Standout Tracks: “Pride,”
“Disappearing Act,” “Boomerang II” (CD); “The Unforgettable Fire” video, “Bad”
at Live Aid (DVD) FRED MILLS

 

 

 

 

Impediments – The Impediments

January 01, 1970

(Happy Parts)

 

www.happypartsrecordings.com

 

Four teenagers, crazed by guitars and hormones, slashing out
two-chord, one-take bashers at Greg Ashley’s Oakland Creamery, full of spit and
sweat and balls-out, foul-mouthed aggression… By now, you’re either suppressing
a yawn or on your way to the MySpace. There’s nothing specially new here,
nothing not already attempted by the Dolls/Stooges/MC5 axis of good times, nothing
not raked over in a million ways by garage dwellers of every decade. And yet,
the Impediments – Nick Allen, Ray Seraphin, Mike Liebman and Rene Macleay — do
what they so with particular intensity and heat … not to mention obscenity. (Yes,
they are shouting “Don’t you vomit on
my cock” in the chorus to “Vom,” what are you going to do about it? ) 

 

From the Billy Preston banging pianos and handclaps that
pace “LeeAnn” (a lust anthem to Ms. Rimes) to the Who-slinging power chords of
“Vagina Envy,” the album delivers on pretty much every cut. “2012” is even
better than the Box Elders’ end-of-the-Mayan-world song, somehow making a party
anthem out of the phrase “I! I! I! want to die.” If you like “What I Like About
You”-ish shouters where everyone in the band yells “hey” together (and you do, don’t you?), “Down” is a
particularly vigorous example, something to get the fist pumping early.  

 

Caution: if you start your evening with an album like this,
you’re likely to end it puking in a dirty stall somewhere before it’s over,
possibly naked, certainly on your own. It’s a drunken riot going on, not a
hook-up soundtrack, and in fact there’s not much romance here. The one
sensitive, lyrics-driven song (“You Want a Square”) is about the kind of guy
girls leave rockers for, the dependable sort who likes Hall & Oates and has
a garden gnome in his yard. Maybe girls do want a square to pay the bills and
get the oil changed, but for Saturday night, I’ll take the Impediments any time.

 

Standout
Tracks
: “Down”, “2012”, “You Want a Square” JENNIFER KELLY

 

Michael Jackson – This Is It

January 01, 1970

(Epic/Sony)

 

www.epicrecords.com/tags/michael-jackson

 

How many times should we all join together and one-up each
other heaping superlatives on Michael Jackson’s classic songs?

 

Almost as soon as the man died everyone from Hollywood to the
hinterland fell over themselves talking about their great love for the man and
his music. Swept away are the biting jokes with the Michael Jackson
punch lines, the scathing interviews given by now heartbroken friends including
actor Corey Feldman and ex-wife Lisa Marie Presley, and talk of the wild New
York City press conference Jackson staged during 2002 when he called then Sony
chief Tommy Mottola a racist and held signs directing Mottola to “Go To Hell.”

 

Where once we saw no good in Jackson, now we see no bad. And that, I must
cynically add, is because there’s money to be made. As one household name musician said to me not long after
Jackson’s death, there are so many things done in Michael’s name that are not
even about him, it’s terrifying.

 

That brings us, of course, to This Is It the CD that accompanies the soundtrack to the movie that
Dame Elizabeth Taylor has Twittered is a “masterpiece.”

 

I can’t tell you about the movie; I haven’t seen it and
don’t plan to. The This Is It CD,
which landed on my desk (clearly via Sony’s “extra wide distribution” plan), is
another matter.

 

Yes, “Man In The Mirror,” “Beat It,” and “Billie Jean” are
phenomenal, classic songs (You may have heard this before). Yes, the sparse
four-track Disc Two has cool demos of “Wanna Be Startin’ Something,” “She’s Out
of My Life,” and “Beat It,” – though I think Jackson’s reading of the poem
“Planet Earth” is a bit bizarre, even for filler.  

 

But while audiophiles might find some excitement in some of
these remastered tracks, my guess is that the casual listener won’t pick up the
nuances. If you have any of Jackson’s classic albums or the countless
compilations, you have enough.

 

As a lifelong Jackson fan, I have often read that Jackson
was a perfectionist who worked for months, years even, to produce music and art
that met his standards. No, he didn’t always hit the mark. But like the man himself,
he wasn’t all good or bad. Just human.

 

Obviously, if Jackson
wanted to put out what is essentially a greatest hits package, which included
the new song “This Is It” (in both original and orchestral versions) he could
have done so long ago.

 

This Is It –  and it’s a shame. I can’t help believe Jackson
would be appalled at what is being done in his name to make money.

 

Standout Tracks: “Wanna
Be Startin’ Something,” “Billie Jean” NANCY
DUNHAM

 

Junk Culture – West Coast EP

January 01, 1970

(Illegal
Art)

 

www.illegalart.net

 

Deepak
Matena, the brain trust behind this fractured musical project, understands the
value of a great name. He took his musical moniker from the title of OMD’s 1984
album, obviously understanding the deeper implications of such a loaded pair of
words.

 

In keeping
with the name, Matena (like Illegal Art labelmate Girl Talk) mines the detritus
of decades of pop culture, stitching together a laundry list of song samples
and random bits of noise to make new compositions. Some are recognizable
(you’ll catch a bit of “Feel Good, Inc.” here or a taste of
“Take The Money And Run” there), many are lost under washes of reverb
and static or choppy edits. The result is a head-spinning batch of tracks that
make for a brilliant soundtrack to the quick clicking, constantly updating,
always plugged in species that we are devolving into.

 

A track like
“American Minute Song” plays out like a car stereo with a malfunctioning
scan feature jumping forward and back with trills of rhythm, vocal hits and
synth noise. Then he drops the aforementioned Steve Miller Band drum sample
that leaps to a bit of easy listening organ accompanied by a hip-hop beat. And
then back it goes into something approximating disco before speeding up into
oblivion and on to the next track.

 

Even when
playing it straight, which happens only on the EP’s opening track “West
Coast,” you still get the sense that you are shaky ground. Pretty soon the
cracks start appearing in the foundation and the whole thing crumbles in front
of you. It’s sure as hell a lot of fun sifting through the rubble.

 

Standout tracks: “American Minute
Song,” “For Elise” ROBERT HAM

 

That’s What Happened: Live in Germany 1987

January 01, 1970

(Eagle Eye Media)

 

www.eaglerockent.com

 

 

BY DAVID GREENBERGER

 

When Miles Davis returned to recording and performing in the
early eighties after a six-year hiatus, it marked a new and final phase for his
music. (Davis
would die in 1991.) Setting aside the robustly rhythmic, dense and dark
explorations of the seventies, his focus moved to brighter colors and
compositions which showcased melodicism. Davis
had also left Columbia,
his longtime label, signing with Warner Brothers and, in 1986, releasing Tutu. He got behind its promotion with
touring and even landed a video of the title track on MTV. The seven musicians
in his band were young and tightly rehearsed.

 

For the concert documented on That’s What Happened, Davis’ two
keyboardists and their racks of synthesizers created undulating beds over which
Davis, saxophonist Kenny Garrett and guitarist Joseph McCreary soloed; Davis’ solos further
underscored how he’d re-embraced melody. Drums and percussion were no longer
the monstrous tribal wallop of the previous decade, but backbeat-steady
anchoring with attractive filigrees. A well recorded performance, this is an
important reminder that Davis
continued to create strong, even stunning music in the last years of his life.

 

Special Features: Miles Davis interview for German television, short feature on his visual art.

 

 

 

 

 

Bryan Scary & The Shredding Tears – Mad Valentines

January 01, 1970

(Old Flame Records)

 

www.oldflamerecords.com

 

Whoa. How to explain this cocktail au musica? Let’s see, add a generous serving of Rocky Horror Picture Show‘s high octane
track, “The Timewarp,” with early elements of Elton John (ya know, during his
weird glasses, feather boa days) and Scissor Sisters’ knack for kitschy ‘70s
pop and you’d have Bryan Scary’s Mad
Valentines.
Now, if these elements tickle your palate and sounds like
something you’d totally dig… then cease reading this review. You may greatly
disagree with the words you are about to read.

 

To gain perspective, I listened to bits of Bryan Scary’s
second album, Flight of the Knife,
and enjoyed the album. In addition to Elton, other ‘70s influences can be heard;
Bowie and Queen for instance. Reveling in great company, right? However, for
this EP, the music is more spastic; though it is a controlled erraticism, it is
spastic nonetheless. And it was this factor that made Valentines maddening. Gone are the laid back, catchy riffs of Knife with tracks like “The Zero Light,”
or the bluesy, rockified numbers like “Mama Waits.” Here, they turned up the
volume and remained at that plateau. Give Mad
Valentines
a listen, be your own critic, and live long and prosper. It is
“out there,” it is quirky and it is kinetic. That is Bryan Scary.

 

Standout Tracks: “Bye Bye Babylon”
APRIL S. ENGRAM

 

 

Swell Season – Strict Joy

January 01, 1970

(Anti-)

www.anti.com

 

When you’ve struck gold right out of the box – which, in the
case of the Swell Season, means winning an Oscar Best Original Song (“Falling
Slowly”) and garnering a pair of Grammy nominations to boot – following up on
that initial success can pose a somewhat daunting proposition.  Having scored so conclusively, it might have
been tempting for Glen Hansard to return to fronting his day band the Frames
and encourage his personal and professional partner Marketa Irglova to resume
her classical career in Prague.  But if Once, the film in which they starred and
the soundtrack that they conceived, initially appeared to be a one-off project,
this second set confirms that the Swell Season is a year-round preoccupation.

 

Naturally then, this sophomore album doesn’t veer from the
template they initially established, one that’s occupied with lush textures,
hushed sentiments and a generally mellow mood. Fortunately though, Hansard and
Irglova – no longer a couple, but still committed to making music together,
here abetted by, among others, members of the Frames – don’t get bogged down in
dour or dewy-eyed melancholia; these tracks build and crest, ruminating with
atmospheric ambiance that cushion these melodies and sweep them up in a
beguiling embrace.  As a result, songs
such as “Feeling the Pull,” “The Rain,” and “High Horses” start off with a
lowered gaze but steadily lift the veil, parting the clouds of uncertainty to
realize grander designs.  Likewise, the
rumbling and meditative “I Have Loved You Wrong,” the down-low refrain of “Low
Rising” and the exotic mid-eastern accent of “Love That Conquers” initially
derive their beauty from a subtle afterglow, but culminate with a sound that’s
both stirring and striking.

 

Notably then, Strict
Joy
affirms its title, establishing an aura that’s subtle but sensual,
introspective and yet evocative.  An
album of autumnal delights, it proves emphatically that indeed Once was indeed not enough.

 

Standout
Tracks:
“Feeling the Pull,” “I Have Loved You Wrong,” “The Rain”
LEE ZIMMERMAN

 

Converge – Axe To Fall

January 01, 1970

(Epitaph)

 

www.epitaph.com

 

Axe To Fall is a
culminating effort, a sort of crash-course in the varied faces of Converge. For
this it both succeeds monumentally and suffers for inconsistency. But even
while it lacks the unified vision of a Jane
Doe
– the 2001 album that made Converge a household name in metal and
hardcore circles – this latest offers a refined look at everything Converge is
capable of, each new direction steered brilliantly and expertly.

 

Whether it’s the blitzkrieg
Motörhead-meets-Baroness-on-speed opener, “Dark Horse,” or the lurching
mono-riff-ic post-metal closer, “Wretched World,” Converge is showcasing an
intimate knowledge of all stripes of loud music, then turning that knowledge
into its own brand. Longer, more metal-friendly cuts are interjected with
speedball bursts of grindcore like the title track or “Cutter.” Kurt Ballou’s
guitars stretch into the tarry sludge of “Worms Will Feed” as ably as they
squeal and hum through “Losing Battle,” and tearing out meaty death metal solos
in “Effigy.” Converge is noisy, dynamic, exciting, confrontational and
confident here.

 

And, in what is perhaps its most purchase-worthy trait, Axe To Fall ultimately proves itself to
be as worthy an introduction to the prevailing trends in loud music – all sorts
of sludge, grind, noise and -core – as it does to the capabilities of the band
whose name graces the cover.

 

Standout Tracks: “Worms Will
Feed,” “Effigy” BRYAN REED

 

Gov’t Mule – By a Thread

January 01, 1970

(Evil Teen)

 

www.evilteen.com

 

“Sprawling.” “Brawny.” “Jamming.” Terms all used by various
observers at various times to describe NYC’s Gov’t Mule; sometimes as an epithet,
depending on the tint of glasses being peered through. One man’s rock is
another man’s roll, though, so here’s the way the Mule – guitarist Warren
Haynes, drummer Matt Abts, keyboardist Danny Louis and new bassist Jorgen
Carlsson – rolls:

 

Hard.

 

Funky. (Free your ASS,
and in this instance, your MIND will follow.)

 

Low-down, and

 

Dirty.

 

Seriously. (Billy
Gibbons don’t sit in with no pansies.)

 

Elegant. (Say what?)

 

For their first studio album in three years (there are
countless live releases, EPs, DVDs and remix projects, so for the sake of
argument we’ll call 2006’s High and
Mighty
the band’s last record; go to Mule.net for a complete discography), Gov’t
Mule journeyed down to Texas to Willie Nelson’s Pedernales enclave with
producer Gordie Johnson, who also helmed High
and Mighty.
No doubt everyone was aiming to work a little Rio de los Brazos de Dios mojo into the grooves of By a Thread.

 

That they did, en route to creating their strongest album to
date, even pausing to genuflect by way
of opening track “Broke Down On The Brazos,” a kinetic, brawny (there’s that
word) thumper featuring the aforementioned Mr. ZZ Top on guitar. As the
Abts-Carlsson-Louis backline lay down an archetypal Lone Star groove, Haynes
and Gibbons play dueling stereo channels, swapping blooze licks, cutting-contest
style, like gunslingers finally coming face to face. Hold on pardnuhs, there’s
plenty room for both of yuh in this here town. Sings Haynes,

 

Everywhere I go
trouble’s all I find

No matter what I do I feel like I’m losing my mind

Broke down on the Brazos

About to lose my mind.”

 

Ain’t it always so.
Well, if you’re gonna lose it, might as well use it, too. While Haynes is
perennially ranked high in national and international “best guitarist” polls,
his estimable fretboard skills sometimes overshadow his many other gifts. As a
songwriter, he’s steeped in the ‘70s hard rock, power blues and psychedelia he
grew up on and he “gets” the lyrical and musical vernacular (as epitomized by
the “Brazos” song), but his obvious hunger to know and experience literally every
genre and era of music continues to feed his vision. This is a guy who can
perform Free and Humble Pie covers one night, switch gears and do John Coltrane
and Mongo Santamaria the next, and then wind up doing Prince and the Beatles
the next. He’s also smart enough to have surrounded himself with three of the
most agile players in the biz: longtime drummer Abts, who puts the “Y” into the
“brawny” and consistently demonstrates a jazzbo’s finesse; keyboardist Louis, a
gifted arranger and consummate collaborator, wary of excess but able to add
nuance to virtually any path the Mule (and its frequent onstage guests) heads
down; and bassist Carlsson, Swedish ex-pat, L.A. session player since the early
‘90s, erstwhile member of the Low Millions, charged with maintaining the band’s
storied bass legacy, and bringing an aggressive yet virtuoso side to the band.
The bond these players have forged is evident on By a Thread.

 

Parts of the album
scan as a musical history lesson, from the aforementioned ZZ-styled TX rocker
to the “No Quarter”-like Led Zep overtones of the jazzily psychedelic “Monday
Mourning Meltdown” (check Louis’ organ and electric piano; they’re pure John
Paul Jones) to the part-waltz/part-stomp 9-minute blues jam of “Inside Outside
Woman Blues #3” which references the Blind Joe Reynolds chestnut “Outside Woman
Blues” previously made famous by Cream. And if you don’t pick up on the Hendrix
stylings coursing through “Any Open Window,” Haynes’ brief “Voodoo Chile”
fretboard flourish and “S’cuse me!” spoken aside just may tip ya; that
the tune’s dedicated to late drummers Mitch Mitchell and Buddy Miles should not
elude your notice, either. But as is typically the case with Gov’t Mule, overt
homage isn’t the intention, for within songs myriad tangents crop up, and the
finished project is always like a jigsaw puzzle: peer close, replay sections,
and you’ll detect individual pieces, discern how the sections slot together;
but pull back and take things in, and you’ll get the big picture with all its
gradations in hue and texture.

 

By a Thread includes, incidentally, a pair of tunes originally cut during the High and
Mighty
sessions with prior bassist Andy Hess, the smoky-jazzy “Scenes From
a Troubled Mind” and the spooky ballad “World Wake Up.” Although the latter was
written while Bush was still in office and is a lyric meditation on the events
of that time (“Polarized, hypnotized… logic fails, greed prevails – world, wake
up”) it is clearly relevant to the here and now. Haynes is rarely tagged as a
political songsmith per se – Gov’t Mule songs are littered with the
bones of plenty of bad women, hard-luck individuals and souls on the verge – but
he is a guy who’s lived through at least two corrupt government
administrations in Amerika and he’s never shied away from topical commentary when
the mood strikes, even as he holds out hope that the bad times that bedevil us
won’t last.

 

Two other songs
bear scrutiny as well. “Forever More” originally appeared on the 2004 Haynes
solo album Live From Bonnaroo. It starts off, true to its origins, as a
delicate acoustic folk number, gradually rising in volume and tempo as the
other players chime in, ultimately spiraling into anthemic territory, replete
with an elegiac wah-wah solo from Haynes. Thematic kin to that cut is “Railroad
Boy,” a traditional folk song with distinctive Celtic overtones (Haynes is a
native of Asheville, NC, located in the Celtic-rich western North Carolina
mountains); here, following an intro from Haynes playing a droning, Richard
Thompson-esque modal riff, the band enters and kicks into the kind of electric
folkrock arrangement that Thompson might’ve conjured years earlier with
Fairport Convention. It’s a riveting, visceral, haunting tune, without question
one of Gov’t Mule’s most elegant moments ever committed to record – and a song
that just may turn the heads of folks who think they’ve got Haynes & Co.
preemptively pegged.

 

Still kickass after
all these years, sure, but just the same… “elegant,” “delicate,” “elegiac,” haunting”:
perhaps it’s time to expand our vocabulary a bit. Get behind the Mule,
folks, before it gets past YOU.

 

Standout Tracks: “Railroad
Boy,” “Inside Outside Woman Blues #3,” “Broke Down on the Brazos”
FRED MILLS

 

Mother Hips – Pacific Dust

January 01, 1970

(Camera Records)

 

www.camerarecords.com

 

The fact that Mother Hips have barely registered a blip on
the public radar may not exactly weigh in their favor, but it ought not count
against them either.  After nearly twenty
years of plying their craft, they show their determination to carry with a
sound and style that’s classic Left Coast rock. 
Naturally then, they can be forgiven for drawing attention to the
probable cause of their predicament, a scenario lamented on “Third Floor
Story,” a tale of record company imbroglio that ranks as one of several
highlights on this otherwise agreeable and aptly dubbed Pacific Dust

 

Indeed, based on the evidence offered herein, there’s no
reason why this California combo won’t finally win the following that’s eluded
them so long. Stirring up their ‘70s sensibility, they offer up a series of
breezy, freewheeling melodies that might have once garnered radio play and an
adoring audience back in the day.  On
songs like “White Falcon Fuzz,” “One Way Out” and “All in Favor,” they suggest
more than a hint of affinity with the Eagles, Neil Young, and the Doobie
Brothers and though some could accuse them of retracing well-trod terrain, the
sound remains striking when recast with their high dessert desire.  So even if there’s a portion of the public
that finds it unhip to like the Hips, their retro refitted approach maintains
its weathered appeal. 

 

Standout Tracks: “White Falcon Fuzz,” “One Way Out” LEE ZIMMERMAN