Monthly Archives: June 2010

Frank Sinatra & Antonio Jobim – Francis Albert Sinatra/Antonio Carlos Jobim: The Complete Recordings

January 01, 1970



If there’s any one real big surprise in store for
anyone savvy enough to pick up on the recently released Francis Albert Sinatra/Antonio Carlos Jobim: The Complete Recordings (Concord) it would be how familiar so many of these songs are and how many
Antonio Carlos Jobim had a hand in composing. “The Girl From Ipanema”, “Quiet
Nights Of Quiet Stars”, “Meditation” and “One Note Samba” are just a handful of
the sixteen out of twenty songs on the disc written or co-written by guitarist
and samba king Jobim. Even if the titles – beyond “Ipanema” – aren’t familiar
right away, as you listen, recognition will creep up on you like a pleasant
champagne buzz on a warm spring night on a beach in Rio.
The music’s really, really good, and Sinatra’s singing is immaculate. But let’s
talk about the notes.


The booklet contains what reads like an eyewitness
account of the two separate recording periods; January 30-February 1 1967 and
February 11th through February 13th; a hell of a
productive six days. For that and its anecdotal detail it’s worth wading
through the snotty, pompous and, most important, inaccurate anti pop and rock
and roll jibes of its author, former Warner Bros. exec Stan Cornyn.  Cornyn mentions how by the time of these
sessions Sinatra’s Reprise label – a Warners subsidiary and the original label
for these recordings – had shifted its focus from the “good music” of Eddie
Fisher and Perry Como for the “odd” music of Tiny Tim, Captain Beefheart and
the Fugs.


Conceding the “oddness” of such acts, it’s still
no exaggeration to say that neither Fisher nor the somnambulistic Como have maintained
the enduring popularity of other Reprise “good music” artists like Sinatra,
Sammy Davis or Dean Martin any more than, say, Tiny Tim or the Fugs have
endured the way other “hip” Reprise acts like Joni Mitchell, Jimi Hendrix, Van
Morrison, Neil Young and Gordon Lightfoot have. More important, Cornyn’s jabs at
rock and roll and pop music are completely unnecessary. Nothing has to be torn
down so that Jobim and especially Sinatra can be built up. For Cornyn the idea
that one can appreciate both Frank Sinatra and the Kinks is completely unfathomable; too bad for him.


Caligula used to lament that “all of Rome” didn’t have a
“single neck” that he could slit at one time. Many feel the same way about the
Andrew Lloyd Webers, Simon Cowells etc., who have ruined what Sinatra used to
call “saloon singing,” helping to convince the world that Michael Bublé
represents the state of the art of that particular genre. The truth is that for
those who get the chance to be heard in the first place, few have the chops or
the balls to present a song the way Sinatra could at his best. Sinatra recorded
these songs between his 51st and 53rd birthdays when he
was a mature artist at the top of his game, his voice confident and strong,
subtle and never once lapsing into the histrionics that characterizes the Weber-ites
and Cowell-istas. Sinatra recognized how important melody is and had the guts
and skill to stick to one rather than woo woo-ing his way all over a tune.


This collection of twenty songs from two great
artists (one of whom is among  the
greatest pop singers of all time) is a reminder that while snobs like Cornyn
were wrong about the “what” and the “why” of “good” and “bad” music,
the notion rings true. One way to explain would be to cite a few hundred
comparative examples, but it’ll take up less time and space to say it this way:
American Idol – bad; Frank Sinatra – good.


Standout Tracks: “One Note Samba,”  “Meditation” RICK ALLEN


Wovenhand – The Threshingfloor

January 01, 1970

(Sounds Familyre)


“Oh beat the drum for him, oh holy measure, strum and buzz
for Him, is our only treasure,” booms David Eugene Edwards in his echo-haunted,
arena-scale voice on “Oh Holy Measure.” And yes, in this sixth full-length as
Wovenhand (following more than a decade with 16 Horsepower), there are plenty
of driving drums, an onslaught of raw and stinging open-chorded strumming, an
ominous undercurrent of buzz throughout, and, perhaps most important, the
palpable, overriding presence of the “Him.” 
One of 2010’s most intense and riveting albums, The Threshingfloor (Sounds Familyre) infuses the bone-shaking transport of rock music with
spiritual struggle.


Edwards’ core band – Pascal Humbert on bass and Ordy
Garrison on drums – is back from Ten Stones, and they continue to become
larger-sounding and more sure. It’s hard to even remember that Wovenhand was
once a solo project. The driving rhythms that these two contribute have become
integral to the band’s sound.


The rhythmic drama underscores a sense of headlong search
and turmoil. There is nothing complacent or settled about Edwards’ faith. Indeed,
the title track’s central metaphor is of one earthly suffering, of life as a violent
threshing that shakes out the small grain of good in us. The song, the album’s
best, underscores its point with a relentless, pummeling beat, and guitars that
sting like whiplashes.


The title cut is the first of several Threshingfloor tracks to employ Middle Eastern sounds, this title cut bristles with
multi-toned percussion and some sort of primitive wind instrument. It’s a
violently propulsive track, faster than the rest of the album and imbued,
despite its darkness, with a kind of physical release.   “Terre
Haute,” near the album’s close,” has the same wild
sense of transport, a high shepherd’s flute (that’s guest artist Peter Eri)
careening over outsized rhythms. “Raise Her Hands” brings Edwards’ affinity for
Native American forms to the front, with its ritual beat and interlayered,
incantatory vocals. These are heady, intoxicating cuts, short-circuiting any
attempts at analysis and going directly to the primitive, spiritual parts of
the brain. Even Edwards is sometimes overcome by the rush of these songs,
singing in tongues or soaring, wordlessly, in choral flourishes.


The Threshingfloor, like all Wovenhand albums, is
full of drama, yet it also includes intervals of respite. “His Rest,” coming a
little before the midway point, is the first of these, its pace slow, its tone
serene, its arrangement eased by cello. Later, “Truth” has the echo-washed
keyboards, the stately percussion of the Cure. Odd little “Wheatstraw,” only a
minute long has a Latin lilt to its drum machine and keyboard riff. Closer “Denver City”
sounds lighthearted and garage-y and oddly like the Eagles of Death Metal,
though minus the raunch.


These tracks allow listeners to catch their breath,
providing a bit of a rest between barrages of pounding, pummeling intensity. Yet
what you remember, what makes Wovenhand so compelling, is the struggle Edwards’
work embodies. Some Christian songwriters attempt to capture the solace of
religion, the tranquility and sureness that they expect from heaven. Edwards
stays right here on the threshing floor, in the hard, sweaty midst of life,
suffering now but looking towards salvation.   


Standout Tracks: “The Threshingfloor” “Terre Haute”
“Raise Her Hands” JENNIFER KELLY



Sleigh Bells – Treats

January 01, 1970

(Mom + Pop Music/NEET)


Near the end of last year Sleigh Bells dropped “Crown On The
Ground,” a single marked not only by its winning combination of sludgy guitar
and synth-girl vocals, but by how incredibly LOUD it was – a jarring assault on
the unsuspecting headphone listener. The cover audaciously scrawled the name in
red cursive over a banana yellow background, a la Jimmy Buffet. And with all
senses completely overwhelmed, you’re left wondering, who the hell are these
folks, who make their long-playing debut on the aptly-titled Treats?


Alexis Krauss and Derek Miller are, believe it or not, a Brooklyn duo. She’s got a background in teen pop, and he
hails from post-hardcore roots. Everything is exactly at it seems. Embracing
the surface,  “Tell ‘Em” follows suit to
kick it off with a thumping industrial beat that’s fun in the way Orgy’s cover
of “Blue Monday” was hilarious. The rapid fire onslaught of Miller’s dense
riffage and Krauss’s sickly-sweet word-curling rise up and separate from an
electro-din, unlike the similar sounding Crystal Castles, whose Alice Glass
buries her voice in the mayhem.


As the title track fades, Krauss seductively pants with the
beat, laughs, and then a few extra chords get pounded out. A jaw dropper from
start to finish.



Standout Tracks: “Crown On The Ground,” “Infinity




Antonino D’Ambrosio

January 01, 1970

(Nation Books)




It’s almost hard to believe that longtime music
writer Antonino D’Ambrosio was unfamiliar with “The Ballad of Ira Hayes,” the song
that inspired his book A Heartbeat And A
Guitar: Johnny Cash And The Making Of Bitter Tears.
By his own admission he
came upon Johnny Cash’s recording of the tune during a visit to Bowling Green University’s Music Library and Sound
Recording Archives. Yet the song had been recorded by folk singer Patrick Sky
in the 1960s and again by Bob Dylan, plus Kinky Friedman, in the 1970s; written
by Native American songwriter Peter LaFarge, the song had also been covered by
Kris Kristofferson, Hazel Dickens, Tom Russell, Pete Seger and Townes Van Zandt,
and it was a #3 Billboard Country
Music Chart hit for Cash in 1964.


But better late than never. And once D’Ambrosio
was in, he was in all the way.


D’Ambrosio provides comprehensive extensive
background of the song itself, its Pima hero, his people and other Native
peoples and their historical relationship with the United States. The book does a lot
toward explaining how this country got into one of the ethnic messes in which
it is still entangled, and touches on the reasons behind a couple more. Moreover,
it fleshes out a hitherto sketchy portrait of the troubled and talented
songwriter LaFarge. It’s a portrait so sketchy that there are no less than
three alleged causes of his 1965 death at the age of 34; those causes include
accidental death by overdose of Thorazine, a drug LaFarge was supposed and
ironically introduced to LaFarge by Cash; suicide, by slitting his wrists; and
death by stroke.


Whether or not Cash – no stranger to pharmaceuticals
– had anything to do with LaFarge’s acquaintance with the drug that may have
taken his life, the Man in Black is definitely the main hero of the book. Cash
was a tireless crusader for the rights of the working class, farmers,
prisoners, ex-cons and Native people, though somewhat strangely he was
relatively silent as regards African American civil rights. D’Ambrosio says it
was “hard for Cash not to be stirred by the events of the civil rights movement”
but there isn’t much followup. Dylan, Pete Seger and Theo Bikel were among the
non-black folk artists who were more vocal and pointed in their support before
the mid-1960s. Later, Cash did buck the still lopsided status quo by featuring
and performing duets with Ray Charles, Charley Pride, Louis Armstrong and other
black artists on his TV show.


But one man can only do so much. Even so, Cash
publicly butted heads with the radio industry and his own record company when
it came to the Native American themed Bitter
Tears: Ballads Of The American Indian
album which featured “The Ballad Of
Ira Hayes,” and he risked his own recording contract to make his iconic Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison album. He
stood up for other artists including Dylan and Seger and LaFarge, and his
support for the causes close to his heart never wavered.


While Cash has become one of the most written
about popular musicians of the last few decades – growing into a sort of
guitar-wrangling cross between Abraham Lincoln, Mike Fink and Johnny Appleseed
– there always seems to be room for more. Attaching the stories of Hayes,
LaFarge and the movements for the rights of Native Americans and other
minorities to the locomotive powered by the ever growing Johnny Cash legend in
this very readable book is a mitzvah on D’Ambrosio’s part.


He may have gotten on the train relatively late
but he seems to be aboard for the whole trip.






John McLaughlin and the 4th Dimension – To The One

January 01, 1970

(Abstract Logix)


For nearly a half-century, England’s John McLaughlin has nobly
served as one of the most exciting and innovative guitarists in the history of
jazz. His resume includes such pivotal gigs as his debut stint in UK crooner
Georgie Fame’s big band, a term in the celebrated Graham Bond Quartet, and key
roles in Miles Davis’ groundbreaking electric ensemble and drum great Tony Williams’
group Lifetime; he’s also jammed with everyone from Jimi Hendrix and The
Rolling Stones to Carlos Santana and avant-garde piano baroness Carla Bley.


And it was that fluidity by which McLaughlin slipstreamed
between AOR and jazz that made him such a power player of the fusion era. As
leader of the legendary Mahavishnu Orchestra, the man set fire to his guitar by
ripping through post-bop scales with the grace of Django Reinhardt and the fury
of Jimmy Page – quite literally, he was the reason why many old school rockers
got turned onto jazz in the first place.


It’s been quite a while since we’ve heard McLaughlin tear
into his six-string. And for those who’ve sat out of his whole Indian music
period of the last 10 years in hopes he would return to the incendiary sounds
of such classic Mahavishnu titles as The
Inner Mounting Flame
and Birds of
, you definitely need to get on the ball and check out To The One, the first proper studio
album with his latest band The 4th Dimension. Flanked by venerable
British multi-instrumentalist Gary Husband (on keyboards, drums and
percussion), drummer Mark Mondesir and Cameroonian bass monster Etienne M’Bappe
holding down the bottom end, McLaughlin runs through six original compositions
written following a recent spiritual reconnection to John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, the title track of which
famously served as a centerpiece to the guitarist’s 1973 collaboration with Santana,
Love Devotion Surrender. And one can
most certainly hear the channeling of Trane’s sax through the stringwork of
McLaughlin’s blistering solos on tracks like “Discovery”, “The Fine Line” and
“Recovery”, a track that also features the kind of dazzling guitar-bass
interplay that McLaughlin so indelibly showcased during his short-lived tenure
with Jaco Pastorius in the Trio of Doom back in the late ‘70s.


Meanwhile, there are two tracks here, “Lost and Found” and
the title cut, which find McLaughlin noodling with his guitar-synthesizer,
evoking the kind of classic analog fusion squiggles his old Mahavishnu bandmate
Jan Hammer was so famous for coaxing out of his Korg. To The One is definitely McLaughlin’s most rocking studio effort
since 1978’s Electric Guitarist, and
a most welcome return to form for this bona fide legend of the axe.


“Discovery”, “The Fine Line”, “Lost and Found”, “To The



Lorn – Nothing Else

January 01, 1970



Packaged in a minimal black slipcase, Nothing Else‘s noirish instrumentals are
sonically just as zipped-up as the jacket suggests. Illinois-based producer
Marcos “Lorn” Ortega closes off his paranoid beats before anything
runs too long, and the slim set here is as rich with spooky string sections as
it is with rumbling synth bass. Hovering around the 2:30 or three-minute mark,
each track is short and sweet, eventually touching on both Breakupdown-era Ghislain Poirier’s work as well as the fruits of
the now-hyperactive West Coast beat music scene, where Flying Lotus combs demos
to pluck a worthy entry for his Brainfeeder label.


Prophecies about turbulent economies and unlawful wars
from an underground MC aren’t needed on Nothing
; Lorn’s harsh, clapping drums and 8-bit patterns sometimes offer as
dismal a portrait as you can get on their own. When it isn’t as dark as
midnight, though, Lorn’s album is glitzy, stewing in dense instrumentation.


Violin-driven melancholia curls over frazzled
breakbeats for “Cherry Moon,” while “Bretagne”
plays out as its stomping counterpart on Nothing
, with UK
grime-like synth stabs and an emphasis on deep bass. Lingering in the low end
is a regular theme on the LP, and Lorn’s affinity for bass-and-bleeps and
horror-flick organs mirrors that of Gaslamp Killer, with whom he partnered for
a recent Low End Theory podcast.


Lorn’s early 2010 remix of producer Deru’s
“Peanut Butter & Patience” added spastic sci-fi blurts and
guttural bass lines. He avoided sacrificing the well-oiled split of techy
experimentalism and hip hop sensibility at its base, and Nothing Else‘s “Greatest Silence” evolves almost in the
same fashion. In the track’s mash of analog and digital tones, you get the best
of what’s happening in 2010’s circle of forward-looking beatmakers. Buzzsaw
grooves, markedly warmer keys, and clubby prodding culminate in a tease that
could prattle on for hours. But Lorn, in line with his frequent displays of
keen editorial discernment, clips it at just the right juncture.



Standout Tracks: “Cherry
Moon,” “Greatest Silence” DOMINIC UMILE


Delta Spirit – History From Below

January 01, 1970



Delta Spirit’s 2008 debut Ode
to Sunshine
was recorded in a cabin they borrowed from a friend, and it
showed. The album had a wonderful lo-fi spirit, as if a bunch of very talented
friends with a love for ’60s music bashed out some tunes. For History from Below the band went a
different route, opting for a real studio and outside producers.


As you might expect, the group sounds more professional – some of
the ramshackle spirit of their debut is gone. But for anything that’s been
lost, something else has been gained. Years of constant touring have made Delta
Spirit a tighter band. They’ve also grown as songwriters, writing compelling
stories that are far more fleshed out than anything on their first album. The soulful,
gospel-influenced “Vivian”, about the death of singer Matt Vasquez’s
grandparents, is one of the most moving songs you’ll hear this year. There
aren’t many bands who could pull that off, then turn around and tackle driving
rock (“Bushwick Blues”), folk (“Ransom Man”, “Salt in the
Wound”) and country-ish ballads (“Devil Knows Your Dead”, “Scarecrow”)
before closing with a eight-minute ripped-from-the-headlines revenge
tale “Ballad of Vitaly.” 


If they keep growing at this rate, the sky’s the limit.


Standout Tracks: “Vivian”
“Bushwick Blues” HAL BIENSTOCK


Elk City – House of Tongues

January 01, 1970

(Friendly Fire Recordings)


To hear their label tell it, they’re chasing the spirit of
’70s radio pop on House of Tongues. And
yet, if you actually listened to radio pop in the ’70s, you’d know they come
off sounding closer to the dream-pop-flavored side of modern indie – which is
not a bad thing.


Guitarist Sean Eden of Luna may have brought a good deal of
that dream pop flavor to the table, but Renee LoBue’s seductive vocal quirks
have done more to define Elk City’s sound, whether they’re working a rootsier
angle with spooky organ on a lead-off track called “Real Low Riders” or getting
arty and dramatic at the same time on the post-punk-flavored “Wire Goats.”
You’d swear they hit their stride on the Lennonesque sleepwalk, “The Onion.”
Then, they change things up and completely mess with your perception of their
strength with the transcendent indie-pop of “For the Uninitiated,” which
somehow manages to blend the best of Concrete Blonde, the Pixies, Pavement and
Guided by Voices. 


Standout Track: “For the Uninitiated” A. WATT



Nina Nastasia – Outlaster

January 01, 1970



Starting in folk and slipping the leash, late in the album,
towards wilder, more dissonant post-classical forms, Nina Nastasia’s Outlaster sheathes powerful emotions in stoic restraint. Endurance, self-control, muted strength
are much on display here in Nastasia’s voice which can rise in an instant from
murmur to wail, or finish an operatic climax with whispered, octave-leaping
subtlety.  And, yes, there is plenty to
endure, too, in ten meditations on romantic situations too tangled to exit, too
intertwined to repair.


Outlaster‘s songs are more densely plotted than those
on previous Nastasia albums (especially On Leaving), but still too
astringent to be called lush. “Cry, Cry Baby,” the album’s opener, employs
rough, frictive cellos and martial drum beats as its rhythmic underpinning. “Outlaster,”
at the end, builds prickly unease with pizzicato string parts. “This Familiar Way” has
the chilled, ritual sensuality of tango, its long violin solo beginning in
understatement and flaring, near the end, into feverish abandon. Nastasia, who to
realize these songs worked with long-time collaborator Kennan Gudjonsson, the
arranger Paul Bryan and a full complement of string and woodwind quartets, has
stripped all possible latent sentimentality out of the instrumental backings,
leaving, as in her singing, only the truest, rawest sorts of feeling.


The album starts a bit slow, with its most conventionally
folky songs near the front (“Cry Cry Baby,” “You Can Take Your Time”), but
breaks out for the territories in its second half. “What’s Out There” and
“Outlaster” are, perhaps, its best and bravest songs, both framed in the tense, rhythmically compelling language of late 20th century classical
music. You might think, for comparison, of the way Sam Amidon refracts early
American folk songs through the modern dissonances and discontinuities. But
amid his arrangements, Amidon keeps his voice plain spoken and unadorned.


Nastasia, by contrast, incorporates extraordinary variety
and drama into her delivery. Now trilling, now whispering, now belting, she has
a strong sense for when to use excess and when to cut back to nothing. As
“What’s Out There” builds towards a dramatic climax, Nastasia’s voice rises
into the phrase, “Now everything I knew is…” and then, when you expect her to
let loose with the conclusion, she shifts up an octave and very nearly whispers
the word “strange.” It’s a chilling moment, one that stops time and raises the
hair on your arm for a second, and just as unexpected the fifth time you listen
as the first.


Standout Tracks: “What’s Out There” “Outlaster” JENNIFER KELLY




Homeboy Sandman – The Good Sun

January 01, 1970

(High Water Music)


With no shtick and few obvious hangups,
Homeboy Sandman has the outward appearance of a rapper with purity on his mind.
But the University of Pennsylvania-educated MC is more straight-up than straight-laced.
“The Good Sun,” his third album (and first with a decent distro deal)
is dense, literate and earnest, but there’s joyousness in the songs, the kind
that comes from puttin’ the work in. He’s the stoner who figured out a long
time ago that he had more fun thinking than smoking.


That said, “The Good Sun” isn’t an intellectual
exercise, per se. Sandman’s mission here is to wow with words and point out
that other rappers could be better writers: “All I hear is yadda, yadda,
yadda/All I hear is nada/And it’s gettin’ louder/So I made a vow to/Do
somethin’ about it,” he says in his nasal, well-metered voice on
“Table Cloth,” which wouldn’t sound out of place on a Def Jux
compilation. On the catchy, teeter-tottering, matter-of-fact “Mean
Mug,” he rolls his eyes at angry-faced MCs: “Towards what ploy are
you employing it?/You do know that it’s poisonous, not poignant/Have you
deployed it at your place of employment?/If so, which position have you been
appointed?” Somehow he sounds more like an imp than a scold.


Elsewhere he holds his own against some potent breakbeats
(“The Carpenter,” “The Essence”), communicates a certain
urgency about his craft (“Not Pop”) and slows down to explain his
worldview as an artist (“Being Haved, “Yeah But I Can Rhyme
Though”). Through it all, he piles up assonance and alliteration,
fearlessly reducing his job to a matter of saying interesting things at
interesting times over state-of-the-art indie beats. Somewhere in that brain
there’s an overtly political being, somebody with incisive thoughts about the
world beyond hip-hop. Maybe that stuff would poison the fun, though. And if
he’s indeed deliberately trying to stay away from the pitfalls of the news,
then “The Good Sun” is just music for music’s sake. And how rare is
that in hip-hop?


Standout Tracks: “The Essence,” “Yeah But I
Can Rhyme Though,” “Table Cloth,” “Mean Mug” JOE WARMINSKY