Monthly Archives: December 2009

Red Jacket Mine – Lovers Lookout

January 01, 1970



The Northwest’s gonna rise again. Though Seattle and the NW
region in general no longer generates the same level of excitement it sustained
for a good while in the aftermath of the Nirvana goldrush – the Internet, with
all its unfolding egalitarianism, ensured that practically any regional scene could
enjoy its fifteen minutes or more, A&R hysteria and press hype be damned –
there are always little breakthrough moments we indie rock aficionados look
(listen) for. One such moment arrives with Seattle’s
Red Jacket Mine, whose second full-length is bursting at the digital seams with
pristine pop and luminous blue-eyed soul, with hints of psychedelia and Americana lining the


Did someone just mention pop? Right from the get-go, Lovers Lookout is aglow: “Stay Golden”
chugs along on a rich bed of guitar jangles and organ hums, while just two
songs later, on “Childish Things,” the band builds up a jubilant head of
powerpop steam that’ll have you reaching for your dB’s and Big Star (hold that
thought) records. On the latter track, guest Eyvind Kang also adds a striking,
almost cinematic, string motif. And soul? The band dips a foot into Memphis and Muscle Shoals
territory via “Such An Easy Thing,” an organ-driven slice of R&B brimming
with passion thanks to songwriter Lincoln Barr’s smooth yet vulnerable warble.
Likewise, “Apricot Moon” is a smoky waltztime ballad with soaring vocal
harmonies and Kang’s strings again lending an uncommon dramatic heft; another
guest, Ian Moore, unleashes some appropriately bluesy guitar licks as well. And
everything coalesces wonderfully with “The Pose,” a shimmering, thrumming
marriage of Brit-pop and vintage college rock, sophisticated in tone yet with a
raw, primal edge.


As produced by Ken Stringfellow, Lovers Lookout has instant cover-sticker cachet – and Posies/Big
Star/R.E.M. fans will surely find the four young men of Red Jacket Mine to be
kindred spirits – but the bottom line is that these guys have the kind of songs
and chops that will weather any level of scrutiny. Come on up for the rising.


Standout Tracks: “The
Pose,” “Apricot Moon,” “Childish Things” FRED MILLS


Jack Bruce & Robin Trower – Seven Moons Live

January 01, 1970



There are those that have accused Jack Bruce of sometimes
under performing by rehashing overly familiar fare (i.e. constant Cream) and
lowering his standards to replay turgid heavy metal (the ill considered West
Bruce and Laing).  After all, his avant
garde repertoire demonstrated he was capable of exploring the outer realms of
fusion and melody, just as his nimble fretwork and stirring vocals have marked
him as perhaps the greatest bassist/vocalist in contemporary realms, Paul
McCartney and John Entwistle notwithstanding. 
Consequently, his union with guitarist Robin Trower was seen by some as
yet another attempt to recapture former glories, putting him back in driving
mode with a flashy guitarist and a powerhouse drummer (in this case the
more-than-capable Gary Husband). 


However, if that was the suspicion with the trio’s three
earlier entries, doubts could be erased given the evidence exhibited on this
live recording taken from a concert this past February in Holland.  While the ever-present Cream classics are
still included – the well trod but still sturdy 
“Sunshine of Your Love,” “White Room” and “Politician” – the emphasis is
mainly on the duo’s collaborative compositions. In fact, there’s an unexpected
freshness and vitality evident in these proceedings, a combination that may
have been less than evident on the trio’s trio of studio albums.  Bruce’s vocals are still as resounding as
ever and his bass work still fills in all the spaces, allowing Trower’s guitar
to soar as Husband holds down the center. 


Trower appears to have pulled back on the Hendrix
inflections that marked his earliest expositions, but if he’s handed the reigns
to Bruce, it makes the formula all the more fluid.  “So Far To Yesterday” and “Perfect Place”
skip along blithely while “Just Another Day” explores those darker, more obtuse
realms that made for such interesting offshoots in Bruce’s eclectic solo
career.  Yes, there’s still ample
evidence the group holds a penchant for stultifying blues riffing and an
occasional leaden melody, but overall Seven
Moons Live
finds its participants shining brightly in the collective


Standout Tracks: “So Far to Yesterday,” “White Room” LEE ZIMMERMAN


Systems Officer – Underslept

January 01, 1970

(Temporary Residence)

Systems Officer is the solo project of Armistead Burwell Smith IV, better known
to most as the bass player for Pinback and Three Mile Pilot. Underslept, his latest solo outing, the
first full-length under this name, is a richly layered and nuanced math-pop
affair. Any of its songs would feel right at home on a Pinback record. This is
not to say that Systems Officer sounds exactly like his other band, but the
instrumentation, production, and overall song structures are close enough to
draw an immediate comparison.


Smith’s trebly, spindly bass playing anchors the songs and
is often mixed to the front and center, as is frequently the case with Pinback.
And his vocals, which usually punctuate Rob Crow’s verses as background or
chorus helpers, capably take the reigns here. Sometimes, as on the loping
“East,” the results are sort of melodramatic and near characterization as
sappy, but the same emotions are rendered effective and emotive on a song like


Upbeat rock exists only as slightly less somber pop on the
record, such as the marching “In This World,” which sports multi-layered vocals
over a minor key dirge. For all of Smith’s dexterous bass playing and flair for
inventive arrangement, the album feels locked into place, operating with one
feeling, one mood throughout. Fortunately, Smith’s ability to write a good song
and perform it interestingly fends off any monotony.


 Standout Tracks: “Pacer,” “Quan” JONAH FLICKER


Boat – Setting the Paces

January 01, 1970



a band that considered themselves the purveyors of “sloppy pop” (that and
calling their Magic Marker debut Songs That You Might Not Like, though
the band had a few poorly distributed earlier records) it seemed that Seattle’s
Boat didn’t set the bar much higher than wanting to have a good time (and maybe
earn a few drink tickets) but with Setting the Paces the band (led by
one Dave Crane) has exceeded all expectations and released their finest record


in another handmade, foldover (origami style) sleeve Setting the Paces begins with the cheery hiccup “Friends Since 1989” (which makes great use of a
xylophone) and then dives headfirst into “Lately (I’ve been on my back)” which
deals with the protagonist eating nachos with his mom and looking for a hero in
the Garden State (that’s my native New Jersey, folks). On “Interstate 5” they
kick the spuzzed-out stun guitar into high gear while the vocals are run
through the superfuzz stinger and “100 Calorie Man” is the closest they will
ever come to a ballad. If you haven’t figured it out yet Boat likes to have fun
and if Setting the Paces doesn’t put a smile on your ugly mug then
you’re beyond help. The rest of us, well, we’re looking to join the Boat fan
club (or start the inaugural chapter).


: “Lately”, “Interstate 5”,  “We Want It, We Want It”, “Prince
of Tacoma”



Various Artists – Things About Comin’ My Way: A Tribute to the Music of the Mississippi Sheiks

January 01, 1970

(Black Hen Music)


Contrary to popular belief, the blues band was not a
byproduct of the electric guitar’s invention and the World War II migration of
African-Americans out of the Deep South to big
Northern cities where they could earn a living with music.


There were Southern acoustic bands before that. Perhaps the
most popular was the Mississippi Sheiks, a string band (guitar, fiddle) active
from 1930-1935 that not only could play rural blues but also early country and
swinging, jazzy dance music. Named for its home state as well as for Rudolph
Valentino’s sexy movie The Sheik, the
Sheiks’ popular recordings included the first version of “Sitting on Top of the
World” as well as “The World Is Going Wrong,” highlighted on Bob Dylan’s World Gone Wrong album. The group even
performed for Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt. Their songs could be topical, sexually
sly, or good-humored.


In fact, it was listening to Dylan’s album that made Steve
Dawson, an accomplished Canadian slide guitarist and label owner/producer, put
together the Things About Comin’ My Way tribute to the Sheiks. It mostly features acts known for their impeccable taste
in crafting restrained modern-day interpretations of older blues and other
roots-music tunes.


Judging from the logistics involved in amassing these
recordings, Dawson must have spent years on this labor of love – getting North
Mississippi Allstars, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Oh Susanna with Van Dyke Parks,
John Hammond, Geoff Muldaur and others to record. He eventually put together a
2008 Seattle session with seasoned studio musicians to get contributions by
Bruce Cockburn, Robin Holcomb, Kelly Joe Phelps and others down on tape.
(Holcomb’s dramatically intimate take on “I’ve Got Blood In My Eyes For You,”
by the way, is a chilling standout.)


The result sounds like true musician’s tribute – there is no
wild experimentation with rock ‘n’ roll arrangements; no flashy or trendy
contributors picked for their ability to get press because they have chart
hits. Everyone seems in synch with Dawson’s vision to do the Sheiks’ justice by
being respectful to the spirit (and sometimes the era) of the source material.
There is some electric guitar, but its use is spare.


The Chocolate Drops, a contemporary string brand (with
banjo, guitar, fiddle) sound timeless doing “Sitting On Top of the World,” with
Justin Robinson’s vocals sounding alive and modern yet also seamlessly
connected to rural Mississippi. The gospel group the Sojourners breathe fire
and passion into “He Calls That Religion,” a condemnation of hypocritical,
greedy preachers that is as relevant today as it was in the Depression. And
Danny Barnes brings the country flavor of “Too Long” to the forefront with a
pinched voice that erupts into some joyful mountain-music scatting.


Occasionally, there’s a touch of brass band – William Carn
contributed muted Dixieland trombone to Cockburn’s “Honey Babe Let the Deal Go
Down,” Steve Moore provides the same to Bill Frisell’s instrumental “That’s
It,” on which Frisell plays a lively tremolo guitar that has a touch of Django.


It used to be that tribute albums gave newer, younger
recording artists a chance to gain some exposure performing songs by
classic-rock names like Hendrix, Petty and the Eagles. But this year has seen
the form used to spotlight unfamiliar or forgotten figures who deserve
rediscovery – Kath Bloom, Judee Sill, Mark Mulcahy and the Sheiks. It’s been
one of the year’s best musical trends, and this is one of the best examples.


Standout Tracks: “Sitting on Top of the World,” “He Calls That Religion” STEVEN ROSEN



Tripwires – House to House

January 01, 1970

(Spark &


Seattle’s Tripwires released a solid debut last
year entitled Makes You Look Around (on
the Paisley Pop label) and here we are, less than a year later, with the band’s
sophomore effort. The term “supergroup” has been tagged on ‘em by more than a
handful of folks and it is accurate to a degree but think more Minus 5 than
Chickenfoot. Speaking of Minus 5, the Tripwires are led by the 5’s guitarist,
John Ramberg, while the lineup is rounded out by Seattle’s Sangster Brothers (Jim and Johnny,
the former from the Young Fresh Fellows and the latter an in-demand producer)
and on drums is ex-Screaming Tree Mark Pickerel. On paper it sure sounds good and thankfully they deliver
on House to House.


The record opens
with  “Drawing a Blank”: the first thing
you hear is Ramberg’s guitar, and if you’ve listened to the Minus 5 (or the
last Tripwires record) you already know the guy is hot stuff on the axe and his
supporting cast (to quote LeBron) is every bit his equal. “(Something In a)
Friday Night” could turn into one of the band’s top crowd pleasers in a live
setting with its weekend chorus while the curiously named “Ned Beatty’s in
Love” slows it down a bit and adds some well-placed handclaps and harmonies and
the fist-pumpin’ “Flowers of Winter” picks up the middle section of the record
which lags, if just a bit. The Tripwires have a lot of strengths and not a lot
of weaknesses so next time someone tells you the over 40 set can’t rock (or
write quality songs) then point ‘em the Tripwires way.


Standout Tracks: “(Something In a) Friday Night”, “Ned
Beatty’s in Love”, “Flowers of Winter”, “S. Charleston Blow-By” TIM HINELY



Hyperstory – Hyperstory

January 01, 1970



An eclectic mash of indie pop, electro-shuffle, field
recordings and soundtracky funk a la David Axelrod, C. Scott Blevins’ inaugural album as Hyperstory has highs and
lows but no real center. The highs include “Ascension”, a showstopping,
bass-and-horn flaunting, wah twitching jam that reminds you of every 70s cop
show ever, and also, a little of Miles’ epic Jack Johnson. Blevins has
rallied 20 people to help him make this record, including session aces like
Joey Waronker and Deron Johnson, and on this dense, intricately made cut, it
all pays off.


At the other end of the spectrum, “A Happening” sounds like
a watery, Paxil-stuffed Blur, its indie-pop weightlessness braced, but only a
little, by a funky beat. In fact, if you insist on melodic pop, just skip ahead
to “Something Good,” which is altogether more driven, more menacing and more
interesting than the opening cut.


Perhaps because the cuts are so different, Blevins
intersperses them with found sound intervals, one of them a recording of a
street preacher urging people to have better values (“Mandate”), another of
footsteps, distant voices and car sounds (“Home”). Except as a buffer, these
don’t really work. They’re not inherently musical, not particularly evocative
of time or place nor do they shed much light on Blevins’ thematic
preoccupations. Indeed, you could consider them the stitching on a patchwork,
which is ably made in spots, thin and dull in others. There’s enough talent in
evidence that you suspect Blevins has a great record in him.  This just isn’t it.


Standout Tracks: “Ascension” “Something Good” JENNIFER


Donovan’s Brain – Fires Which Burnt Brightly

January 01, 1970



You’d be forgiven if off the top of your head you can’t name
many Montana
bands – which, perversely, is what helps Donovan’s Brain stand out. The
long-running brainchild (ahem) of one Ron Sanchez, DB comes up for air every
few years when studio rat Sanchez has a break from his production schedule,
with key releases thus far appearing on the Get Hip and Career labels (the
latter operated by Sanchez and his good buddy Deniz Tek of Radio Birdman). It’s
been four years since the last record, the two-CD A Defeat of Echoes, and this time around he’s got a star-studded
roster of friends pitching in, among them Tek, Roy Loney, Bobby Sutliff (Windbreakers),
Mike Musburger (Posies, Fastbacks) and Jason Lytle (Grandaddy).


“Psychedelia” being an action verb for the Brain, longtime
fans of the band won’t be ill-served by the baker’s-dozen tunes here. Fires Which Burnt Brightly kicks off
with a lush slice of jangledom from Sanchez’ pen: “The Same Mistakes,” with its
12-string, mellotron and tambourine, could pass for an obscure track from the
British Nuggets box – or perhaps an
outtake from those psychedelic psunspotters themselves, the Dukes of Stratosphear.
Another early highlight is Sanchez’ “Broken Glass Corner,” which pirouettes
through the looking glass via a detour down Magical
Mystery Tour
lane (what’s that Jane Fonda namecheck all about, Ron?), while
Sutliff’s chiming, pulsing “You Gotta Go Now” is powerpop cut, not all that
surprisingly, from Windbreakers cloth.


Tracks 7-13 comprise what’s essentially “side two” of the
album and Sanchez describes them as a song cycle with a theme concerning the
“loss of important people and institutions in our lifetime.” There’s a
cinematic instrumental opener, “After the Main Sequence,” followed by guitarist
Colter Langan’s caustic, cautionary garage cruncher “Come For The Sun,” a
meditation upon colonialism and manifest destiny. Tek’s ominous rocker “Vanished”
was apparently slated, initially, for Radio Birdman’s reunion album, but here,
the inclusion of a female vocal foil for Tek gives it an X or Jefferson
Airplane-styled vibe. And the Sanchez-Tek closing track, “Thinking About
Neutrons,” with its Thomas Dolby-like whorl of keyboards and recited vocals, is
inspired looniness at its best; you won’t think about neutrons in quite the
same way again (and of course we all think
of neutrons from time to time, don’t we?).


Consume with a tab or a smoke at your discretion, but the
main thing is to relax, sit back, and turn off the brain – because in this
case, it’s Donovan’s Brain that’s in


Standout Tracks: “You
Gotta Go Now,” “After the Main Sequence,” “Vanished” FRED MILLS


Helen Money – In Tune

January 01, 1970

(Table of the Elements)


Helen Money is Alison Chesley.
On her latest solo recording In Tune,
the experimental cellist based in Chicago
– current ‘it city’ for creative musicians – leaves no room for doubt that
she’s come to rock. Yes, cello is the only instrument on the recording. But the
days of locking particular instruments into, or out of, single genres of music
are over. Rock and roll is a state of mind.  


Whatever the equivalent of a
‘bebop nazi’ would be in the classical music world (baroque nazi?), Chesley is
the opposite. She subjects her cello to all manner of effects pedals and studio
manipulations, the most overt being traditional distortion. The title track’s
main riff would fit perfectly into a head banger Metallica song. And her cover
of “Political Song For Michael Jackson To Sing” by punk heroes The Minutemen
has a Hendrix/Van Halen whammy bar dive bomb moment that would make either
guitar god proud.


But in common with the best
heavy metal or rock and roll, there’s always more going on than just pure
volume or rattle. Chesley has fine technique and a modernist sense of harmony,
rhythm, and form. She seems equally influenced by minimalist composer Steve
Reich on the one hand, and rock ‘n roll on the other. This may be why she
brings to mind long form post-rock bands like Godspeed You Black Emperor or
Silver Mt. Zion. While not as epically ambitious, Chesley seems to be coming
from a similar attitude.


Chesley says of In Tune, “I ended up in some pretty dark
places but that’s what interests me and the cello expresses those emotions so
well.” True enough. While some of In Tune comes close to self-indulgent melodrama, Chesley always stops short of actually
arriving there. And though she intends to take you (and herself) to some dark
places, In Tune’s cover art of
origami peace cranes made out of dollar bills show that Helen Money is really
just shining her lovelight.


“In Tune,” “Sagrada” JOHN DWORKIN



Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson – Summer of Fear

January 01, 1970

(Saddle Creek)


He’s still got one too many names for any good to come of
it. But Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson has made a record here that definitely
does its best to live up to the promise of a debut meant to be a demo with a
bigger, more confident sound that doesn’t necessarily squash the fragile, human
qualities that made him matter in the first place. Chief among those human
qualities, of course, is pain, which he’s still wearing like a scabby little


It doesn’t hurt to have a friend like Kyp Malone of TV on
the Radio you can call for production assistance, and his presence really
shines through in the textures of “The Sound.” But it’s the pain that
ultimately draws you in — or scares you off — delivered in an agitated whine
that may be what Tom Petty sounds like when you’re high on crystal meth. (I
wouldn’t know. I only listen to Madonna when I’m high on crystal meth.) But
Robinson is clearly at his best here when he lets the Petty thing get out of
hand – in the post-Byrds jangle of “Trap Door,” for instance, where he sets the
tone with “Woke up, wiped the blood from my bloodshot eyes, wondered why I
should still stand here and try to try.” It’s no “Honey, don’t walk out. I’m
too drunk to follow,” but he definitely sells it. The only thing missing, it
seems, is Mike Campbell to turn in a much better solo. If that sounds less than
flattering, it isn’t meant to be. It’s high time someone laid some Petty on
these kids to wash down all that Springsteen worship they’ve been swallowing
these past few years. 


Standout Tracks: “The Sound,” “Trap Door” A. WATT