Monthly Archives: June 2010

Samantha Crain – You (Understand)

January 01, 1970

(Ramseur)

www.ramseurrecords.com

 

Although it’s tempting to focus on her rural Oklahoma roots and think
of her as just another girl with a guitar, Samantha Crain is way too savvy to
be so easily categorized. Those who have followed her career can take the title
of this new effort at face value, because indeed, after hearing Crain’s melodic
twists and turns, a knowing appreciation naturally follows. For starters,
there’s that voice – an instrument that soars with an upward spiral at the most
unexpected intervals. It plays out in conjunction with her melodies; songs like
“Lions” and “Religious Wind” start with a wallop and suddenly take a respite
before they relapse, confusing the dynamic but making the music all the more
compelling in the process.

 

If there is a valid comparison to be made, the
closest it comes is to Brandi Carlisle, another artist who wrings drama from
tangled melodies. And like Carlisle, Crain does put her guitar to good use,
whether it’s with the rich, vibrant strum of “We Are the Same” or the loping
shuffle that steers “Up on the Table.” So too, when she adds a plucking banjo
to the mix on “Santa Fe” or bagpipes to the eerie coda of “Two-Sidedness,”
Crain’s unique appeal is indeed that much easier to understand.

Standout Tracks: “Lions,” “”We Are
the Same,” “Santa Fe”
LEE ZIMMERMAN

 

Nina Nastasia – Outlaster

January 01, 1970

(FatCat)

 

www.fat-cat.co.uk

 

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

 

 

 

Oasis – Time Flies… 1994-2009

January 01, 1970

(Big Brother Recordings/Columbia)

 

www.columbiarecords.com

 

In pouring over the contents of the four-disc collection (3
CDs, a DVD), it’s hard not to wonder about the purpose (or motives) of it all.
Especially in trying to understand why there isn’t a single photograph of the
band to be found. Were it not for the DVD of music videos, the uninitiated
could go on unawares as to what the members of Oasis actually look like. What
is made abundantly clear, though, is how beloved the band is by its worldwide
fanbase. This is represented throughout, in the form of photos depicting
massive crowds (presumably at Oasis shows) and short statements from devotees,
which comprise the majority of a not unsubstantial booklet, declaring things
like, “They’re fucking EVERYTHING to our generation.” Since a best of
collection ideal for newbies already exists, one might then assume that Time Flies… 1994-2009 is “for the fans.”
It’s them on the cover, after all. So does it do a fan justice? Not really.
Though it sort of depends on the fan, and whether or not they own and enjoy Dig Out Your Soul, Oasis’s most recent,
and thus final album.

 

The core of Time
Flies…
is the two discs that collect every single from 1994’s
“Supersonic” to 2008’s “Falling Down,” and is simultaneously being released on
double-CD and quintuple-vinyl formats. Twenty-seven songs in all, and just the
singles. No B-sides or non-A-side album tracks are included, which is too bad.
It’s hard to imagine an Oasis collection that doesn’t have “Acquiesce” or
“Slide Away.” But the lion’s share of Oasis’s best songs are accounted for. And
they’re mostly on disc one, because disc one primarily focuses on the first
three albums, Definitely Maybe, (What’s The Story) Morning Glory?, and
the bloated yet underrated Be Here Now.

 

Disc two’s predominant focus is on everything since ’97,
which means it kind of sucks by comparison, and returns us to the issue of
which sort of Oasis fan this package is meant to appeal to: does or does not
enjoy Dig Out Your Soul. And the
disc-two-sucks argument should point that arrow away from the non-DOYS enthusiast – one who’d prefer Liam
never got any grand ideas about songwriting, and Noel stopped trying to blow
the fucking roof off. That settled, there’s still no obvious reason why a disc
two fan would want a collection of songs they probably already own.

 

Hence the box set. In addition to the singles collection,
there’s a DVD of music videos (with mildly entertaining and, to be fair,
totally interesting commentaries by Liam and Noel), and a CD of the band’s
final recorded concert, from July of 2009. The inclusion of the latter seems to
serve a dual purpose of providing a collectible goodie and shifting nostalgic
attention away from the ’90s to celebrate the band at the end of the line.
Sadly, Liam’s voice is hoarse, and by the end of the opener, “Rock ‘N’ Roll
Star,” he sounds out of breath. Often overshadowed by his brother, but not
here, Noel and the crowd belt out a highlight in “Half The World Away,” a
classic B-side.

 

The last ten years don’t change the fact that at its height,
Oasis was an amazing thing to behold. Best when victoriously gloating, they
wanted to be the biggest and the best band in the world, and for a while they
were. To really appreciate it, though, you’ve got to dig deeper.

 

Standout Tracks:  “Wonderwall,” “Live Forever” ZACH BLOOM

 

Villagers – Becoming a Jackal

January 01, 1970

(Domino)

www.dominorecordco.com

 

They’re being hailed as one of the most illuminating outfits
on the generally low-lit nu-folk scene, but the brilliance of the Villagers
doesn’t derive from the tastemakers’ plaudits. Rather, it’s their exquisite
arrangements and imaginative instrumentation that makes their songs so
gorgeously luminous. Helmed by musical wunderkind Connor O’Brien – who plays
practically every note here single-handedly – this veritable one man band subs
for a communal combo, with sweeping strings, nimble keyboards and a soaring
falsetto that rounds out every nuance. Like Bon Iver and Iron and Wine, two
outfits with whom Villagers share a similar style, O’Brien is especially adept
at creating a weary ambiance that stirs the emotions, even in the most solemn
of circumstance. Whether it’s the throbbing undertow of “Ship of Promises,” the
resounding choruses of “That Day” or the brittle, barbed circumspect of “Home,”
O’Brien succeeds in manipulating the dynamic and imbuing subtle nuances that
become evident only after repeated encounters.

 

To be sure, it’s that elusive quality that makes Becoming a Jackal so fascinating. It’s
not so much a full-on assault, but rather a seductive allure that permeates
each of its offerings. Only “The Pact (I’ll Be Your Fever),” an unusual example
of Villagers in proprietary pop mode, and “Twenty-Seven Strangers,” a sobering
narrative that’s both strikingly beautiful and cinematically suggestive,
provide the most immediate accessibility. Regardless, music this alluring
doesn’t come along all that often. To turn a phrase, it takes Villagers to duly
impress.

 

Standout
Tracks:
“Twenty-Seven Strangers,” “That Day,” Home” LEE ZIMMERMAN

 

Macy Gray – The Sellout

January 01, 1970

(Concord)

 

www.concordmusicgroup.com

 

For some reason Macy Gray is an extremely
polarizing force in popular music; you either love her or dismiss her. Those
who dig her find that baffling and frustrating feeling that, among other
things, Macy does a wonderful job of amalgamating old fashioned soul music and
rock and roll. Her music has the rhythmic funky passion and abandon that’s
missing from much of modern  r & b, or
what passes for it ,although r & b certainly is not the only music that of
late has embraced style over substance and traded dynamics for histrionics.
From the time she first burst on the scene with the exquisite “I Tried” Gray
has been determined to remind us that in its most pure true form (or one of
them at least) rock and roll music is an outgrowth of rhythm and blues albeit
one with equal ties to modern (i.e. post World War II) country music.

 

Few songs exemplify this better than “Kissed It”
which she does backed by Velvet Revolver, the band which has in Slash someone
else who seems determined to not forget rock and roll’s r & b roots; at least
since he left the dead zone surrounding Axl Rose. “Kissed It” thumps along like
an outtake from T-Rex’s Electric Warrior with Macy’s wrong side of the tracks girl group vocal propelling it.  “Beauty In The World” is John Lennon’s “Give
Peace A Chance” as performed by Sly and the Family Stone with Macy articulating
her post-hippie vision of peace and love and exhorting “shake your booty boys
and girls for the beauty in the world.”

 

Gray’s music is joy-filled but never saccharine. She’s
not looking at the world with blinders on; she’s quite aware (“Help Me”) of how
things are. She simply has a rock rooted vision of the way things could and
should be. She’s a true soul sister with a flower in her hair dancing down the
natural path laid out by Sly, Lennon, Arthur Alexander, Van Morrison, Sam
Cooke, Stevie Wonder, Earth Wind and Fire and pre-disco Rod Stewart. If she
rankles the uptight it’s because, as Lennon said in “Working Class Hero”: “They
hate you if you’re clever and they despise a fool” – but damned if that’ll stop
her.

 

Standout Tracks: “Kissed It”; “Help Me” RICK
ALLEN

 

Living Sisters – Love to Live

January 01, 1970

(Vanguard)

www.vanguardrecords.com

 

Are the Living Sisters actually the Andrews Sisters reincarnated
for a new millennium? That’s the initial impression gleaned from this ad hoc
trio featuring songstresses Inara George (Bird and the Bee), Eleni Mandell and
Becky Stark (Lavender Diamond). While all three women have individual
pedigrees, each takes pains not to overshadow the others. Rather, they create
cheery, chirpy harmonies that keep a steady dichotomy throughout. Operating in a
giddy lockstep, they purvey an upbeat disposition, manifest in the sunny
sentiments that spiral through “How Are You Doing?,” “(You Don’t Know) How Glad
I Am” and “Blue.”

 

It’s an uncommon amount of optimism for these troubled times,
but it basks in innocence and simplicity, particularly on tunes like “Double
Knots,” a wistful homage to domestic bliss, and “Good ‘Ole Wagon,” a homespun
homily on the virtues of simplicity. Indeed, with a title like Love To Love, the idea of discord is
mooted from the start. While the concept may strike some as a bit twee from the
get-go, it’s apparent that the Living Sisters are living large by spreading the
love.

 

Standout
Tracks:
“Good Ole Wagon,” “How Are You Doing?” LEE ZIMMERMAN

 

The Horseman

January 01, 1970

(Screen Media Films; 96 minutes)

 

www.screenmediafilms.com

 

BY CHRIS ZIMMERMAN

 

When it was first released in Australia back in 2008, Steven
Kastrissios’ The Horseman garnered
widespread attention from critics and fans in the European film market for its
visceral story and gore inducing violence. It’s taken two years for the film to
find its way stateside, and is primed to make an impact here as well.

 

At its core, the Horseman is a revenge tale. Peter Marshall
takes on the role of Christian Forteski, a father consumed with grief when he
learns of his daughter’s death due to an overdose of drugs. His remorse
transforms into anger when he receives a video, detailing several men raping
his drugged up daughter, setting him on a blood soaked path for vengeance.

 

To delve deeper into the plot would be unfair to those who
have yet to see the film. All one needs to know is that Christian is an
extremely PO’ed man on quest for revenge and redemption. Those looking for
cheap horror antics in this powerful slice of cinema should consider looking
elsewhere. What is presented is a gritty real world take on violence that is as
hard to watch as it is enthralling.

 

Marshall’s
performance is one for the ages. His anguish is palpable as he tears through
one person to the next, checking off the names of those responsible for his
daughter’s death. Though he may convey some semblance of satisfaction in
avenging her, he never feels any joy from his actions, nor should he. After
all, violence only begets more violence, a fact he is well aware of. No matter
how many of the thugs he cuts down, his daughter is still dead, making
catharsis unattainable.

 

It would be inaccurate to label the Horseman as a thriller,
mainly due to the movie being devoid of any “thrills,” per se. The experience is more of a silent, calculating nature than
the usual big budget Hollywood blockbuster of
today. Gone are the car chases and impossible fight sequences, replaced by an
explosion of gut wrenching violence.

 

By the time the end credits begin rolling, half the audience
will be clinging to their stomachs, sighing in relief that it is over, while
the other half will be on their feet applauding Kastrissios’ effort.
Considering there aren’t many revenge flicks in this day and age that can pull
that off, this should tell potential viewers of the power The Horseman holds.    

 

Special
Features:

Audio
commentary with director Steven Kastrissios

Audio
commentary with director Steven Kastrissios, producer Rebecca Dakin, and star
Peter Marshall

Making-of
featurette (Blu-ray only)

The
Horseman
short film with optional commentary (Blu-ray only)

Deleted
scenes with optional commentary (Blu-ray only)

Cast and crew interviews (Blu-ray only)

 

Return of the King: Elvis Presley’s Great Comeback

January 01, 1970

(Jawbone)

www.jawbonepress.com

 

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

 

Suffice it say that there have been countless volumes
written about Elvis Presley, enough to make him arguably the most documented
music performer of all time, the Beatles being possibly the only exception.
Consequently, a skeptical observer might have good reason to question the need
for yet another tome… and at 270 pages, a rather lengthy one at that. Yet
despite the vast number of entries already occupying literary shelves, Return of the King: Elvis Presley’s Great
Comeback
(Jawbone Press), Gillian G. Gaar’s spellbinding examination on the
King’s unexpected renewal via his triumphant 1968 NBC television special,
stands out from the pack, not only due to its specific focus, but also owing to
the fact that Gaar’s detailed narrative uncovers insights that the usual array
of fawning bios often breeze over. 

 

Gaar begins with the back-story about how the King fell from
grace, swept up in the steady tide of mediocre movies and marginal material
that diminished his output with the start of the ‘60s. Usurped by the bands at
the helm of the British invasion, Dylan and other up-and-comers who showed
their grit and grasp of Rock’s new era, Elvis had been reduced to little more
than an also-ran by that summer of ’68. In succumbing to the manipulation of
his mentor, Colonel Tom Parker, he had become a mere shadow of the charismatic
rebel who little more than a decade before forever changed the course of
popular music and seduced an entire generation in the process. Sadly, Elvis
appeared all too willing to relinquish his place in pop’s pantheon, seemingly
resigned to the notion that he had little choice other to accept the goods he
was given. Even the prospect of a television special offered little reason to
believe it would have any effect on his fortunes

 

“The special didn’t begin with the thought that it would
play a major role in resurrecting Elvis’ career,” Gaar notes early on. “Instead
it had its genesis when Colonel Parker ran into an unexpected roadblock in
securing his standard $1,000,000 fee for an Elvis movie; no one was interested
in meeting his price.”  According to the
author, the alternative idea of offering his client to NBC was merely a fallback
tact, just another way to keep the cash coming.

 

However, as the creative process got underway, Elvis took
interest and his enthusiasm was unexpectedly spiked. To their credit, the
show’s writers and producers had the wherewithal to turn it into a command
performance, one that would effectively reflect the Presley legacy, while also
showing that the potential for further glories could still be tapped. The
instigation for the show’s format appropriately originated with Elvis himself,
although the inspiration was likely unintended. Sitting in a room with the
program’s writers on the evening of June 6, 1968, he and the others watched in
disbelief as news reports followed Robert Kennedy’s assassination after his win
in the California presidential primary. Elvis sought refuge from the tragedy by
sharing personal reflections on his career and his role as an American icon,
making his points by strumming songs throughout the night on an acoustic
guitar. It immediately became clear that the special now had its theme, one
that would resonate with the public and reinstate Elvis’ relevance.

 

Gaar describes the events that set the stage for the show,
providing specific descriptions about its development, and concluding with
Elvis’ subsequent downhill spiral — what she calls “a gradual slide into what
some would see as ignominious caricature.” She also includes numerous quotes
from those closest to the King — his henchman, fellow musicians and those
involved in the creation of the program itself. And while the book basks in
stunning detail, its most intriguing entries are those that provide insights
into Elvis’ personality. The performer Gaar describes here isn’t the arrogant
maniac who shot up TV screens and dispatched his entourage to do his bidding,
but rather a savvy, self-deprecating and thoughtful individual who cared about
his career even while mired in frustration.

 

“I found Elvis to be a very sweet person,” an insider is
quoted as saying. That’s a surprising adjective for a man who’s often described
as brooding and aloof. Yet, it’s a telling image, one that pops up repeatedly
and helps to redefine Elvis in a way that’s rarely been done before.

 

Then again, Gaar is well qualified to pen this treatise. A
respected writer and critic for such notable journals as Mojo, Rolling Stone, Goldmine (which carried her column “All
Things Elvis”) and BLURT, she’s authored books about Nirvana, Green Day and a
history of women in Rock. “Return of the King” is clearly her most ambitious
effort to date — not to mention her most compelling – a book that should
appeal both to diehard devotees as well as the casually curious.

 

 

 

Roland White – I Wasn’t Born To Rock‘n Roll

January 01, 1970

(Tompkins
Square)

www.tompkinssquare.com

 

Roland White could be considered something of a legend
within the bluegrass sphere, having helped elevate the form to prominence when
it was mainly considered the realm of hillbillies and the kind of characters
who nuzzled up to the unsuspecting city folk in Deliverance. Roland and his brother Clarence made bluegrass a
contender for popular appeal, first in their band the Kentucky Colonels, and
later when Roland joined Country Gazette and the Nashville Bluegrass Band.
While they created their template from traditional music, they also nudged
those sounds ever closer to rock ‘n’ roll, beginning with Clarence’s enlistment
by the Byrds and later, when Country Gazette morphed into the Flying Burrito
Brothers. Clarence’s untimely death – he was killed when the two brothers were
run down by an errant equipment van – cut short his trajectory, but by then
country had gone contemporary and the lines were forever fused between roots
and rock.

 

Long out of print and considered something akin to the Holy
Grail, I Wasn’t Born To Rock ‘n Roll is finally back in print thanks to the good folks of Tompkins Square who
diligently remastered the original tapes, restored its original packaging and
tossed in a heretofore unreleased bonus track to boot. Although it was released
nearly 35 years ago, its music sounds as fresh and vibrant today as it did back
in the day, well before bluegrass had crossed into the mainstream. The set
boasts both heartfelt ballads (“The Storms Are Over the Ocean,” “Same Old Blues
Again”) as well as ramped up workouts (“Kansas City Railroad Blues,” “Head Over
Heels in Love With You”), but regardless of the pacing, White’s engaging vocals
and the sturdy accompaniment of his Country Gazette cohorts result in a
dazzling display of sheer, timeless virtuosity.

 

Standout
Tracks:
“Marathon medley,” “Kansas
City Railroad Blues,” “I Saw Your Face in the Moon” LEE ZIMMERMAN

 

 

Robert Pollard – Moses on a Snail

January 01, 1970

(Guided By Voices)

 

www.robertpollard.net

 

If its Tuesday, it must be time for another outing by Robert
Pollard… or so it seems given his uber productivity. After retiring Guided By
Voices, a band that never gave short thrift itself when it came to it ongoing
output, Pollard’s proved himself the busiest man in showbiz – not to mention a
concerted multi-tasker – with at least half a dozen new releases a year.
Striking various guises – Boston Spaceships, the Keene Brothers, Cosmos, the
Circus Devils, and just plain Robert Pollard – he seems compelled to keep up a
non-stop production line. Compulsive behavior? Obsession? Whatever the reason,
he keeps his fans well stocked with a strikingly diverse array of new material.

 

Consequently, Moses on
a Snail
follows his last “solo” LP, We
All Get Out of the Army
by only three months, a remarkably short expanse by
any measurement. Remarkably too, there’s no slide in quality. Curiously, Pollard
seems to be aligning himself with other notable eccentrics – Syd Barrett, Robyn
Hitchcock, Bowie – for a generally off-kilter tableau of peculiar settings.
“The Weekly Crow” purveys a brooding Bowie-esque perspective of the “Heroes”
variety. The title track reflects the darker, more bewildering observations of
prime time Hitchcock.  And the steady
assault of “It’s A Pleasure Being You” (“It’s a pleasure being you/There are
things you can prove”) — and much of the rest of the set for that matter —
takes its cue from Barrett’s skewered perspectives.

 

It all stands to reason, of course. When one is driven to
such prodigious output, a manic mentality seems certain to take hold. But
whatever the reason, it hasn’t failed him yet, and its title to the contrary, Moses on a Snail shows Pollard adeptly
maintaining that frenzied pace.

 

Standout Tracks: “Moses on a Snail,” “The Weekly Crow,” “It’s a Pleasure Being You” LEE
ZIMMERMAN