Monthly Archives: February 2011

Badlands – Badlands [reissue]

January 01, 1970

Candy Records)


From the rather
largish ‘woulda, shoulda, coulda’ file comes one of the great lost bands of
rock ‘n’ roll, Badlands. Emerging from the 1980s nerf-metal scene, Badlands would
be overshadowed first by the enormous success of contemporaries Guns N’ Roses,
a/k/a the luckiest bunch of Hollyrockin’ droogs on the planet at the time, and then
totally eclipsed by the grunge leviathan that steamrolled its way outta Seattle
in 1991.


lack of success remains a mystery almost two decades after the band’s
acrimonious break-up. The individual band members had the gutter-dwelling street
rat look affected by Sunset Strip rockers like Motley Crue or the GN’R gang,
lean and wiry with long hair and heroin chic. Badlands had an undeniable musical
pedigree as well, guitarist Jake E. Lee making his bones as part of Ozzy Osbourne’s
post-Randy Rhodes band, vocalist Ray Gillen fresh off an ill-fated short stint
with Black Sabbath. Future Kiss beat-blaster Eric Singer was another Sabbath alumnus,
while Badlands bassist Greg Chaisson had clocked in with Ron Keel in Steeler.


Whether it
was due to their lack of flamboyance when compared to even such notable second-and-third-tier
glam-metal hellraisers as Love/Hate or Faster Pussycat, or because their
blues-tinged hard rock sound drew more from Led Zeppelin than Hanoi Rocks, the
guys in Badlands received little love from the City of Angels and, thus, were
forever unable to break out of the L.A. rock ghetto. Tis a shame, too, ’cause Badlands
had found a strong creative team in Lee and Gillen, who had developed an uneasy
songwriting relationship akin to Jagger and Richards, while the band’s talents
and electric chemistry allowed them to light up a stage wherever they toured. Badlands would manage to release just two great rock ‘n’
roll albums before burning out and breaking apart – their 1989 self-titled
debut, and 1991’s equally excellent Voodoo Highway.


almost from the date of its release, Badlands the album has long been ignored by U.S. archival labels trying to mine
gold from the major label archives, resulting in a seller’s market charging
collectors $50 or more for a first-gen CD copy. Originally released by Atlantic
Records’ Titanium imprint, Badlands has finally been reissued on CD by England’s Rock Candy Records, the new
release featuring remastered audio, a pretty cool bonus track on top of the ten
original barn-burners, and a sixteen-page CD booklet with lengthy liner notes
and a bunch of rare, unpublished band photos…undeniably a deluxe package that
will have the band’s international fan base foaming at the mouth.


As for the
music? If you’re unfamiliar with Badlands, don’t cue up the CD expecting
something along the lines of the Crue or Poison, or even Ozzy’s bat-munching,
1980s-era Goth-metal Sturm und Drang. Nosirree, Badlands were unabashed Led
Zeppelin acolytes, with maybe a dash of the Jeff Beck Group on the side of
their plate, but definitely a boozy, blues-rock based gang o’ houserockers.
“High Wire” jumpstarts the album with a blast of white light/white
heat, Gillen’s voice teetering on the edge of the abyss as Lee’s guitar
slices-and-dices like some mutant six-string vegomatic. The rhythm section of
Chaisson and Singer crashes with the best of ’em, delivering a blustery
backbeat for the soaring vocals and guitar pyrotechnics. Call it Zeppelin mark
II if you will, ’cause this is where the boys from Britain may have gone musically
if not for Bonzo’s unfortunate demise.


Badlands continues to singe your
synapses with an unrelenting mix of mid-and-rapid-tempo firestarters that
refuse to fall into flaccid power-ballad tropes. The label-dictated single
“Dreams In The Dark” survived executive manhandling to become the
band’s calling card, garnering valuable MTV exposure (yeah, back when they used
to play actual music videos) and
inching into the Billboard Top 40.
The song itself is a pleasant enough lil’ rocker with Gillen’s voice sounding
like Johnny Van Zandt on a wistful tale of romance and lust that could pass for
a Southern rock number from a decade earlier if not for Lee’s metallic riffing
and the explosive rhythms behind Gillen’s vocals. The instrumental “Jade’s
Song” displays some of Lee’s underrated fretwork, with dexterous
acoustic-guitar strum serving as an extended intro to the deceptively benign
“Winter’s Call.” The closest thing the album has to a ballad,
“Winter’s Call” starts out all gentle and sensitive and such before imploding
like a deteriorating black star into another Zeppelin-esque pleasure wail of
screaming vocals and guitars and TNT drumbeats.


foreboding “Streets Cry Freedom” is drenched in dark malevolence,
Lee’s mesmerizing guitar lines matched by Gillen’s muted vocals until the whole
thing blows up in your face with a sonic howl colder and more powerful than any
arctic wind. Gillen reaches Plant-like heights with a tortured and nuanced
vocal performance delivered above sheer instrumental chaos. The band reaches
for its inner Blackfoot with the bluesy, blustery “Rumblin’ Train,”
which sports a fine set of Cajun-fried lyrics, a stomping rhythm, and Lee’s
best swamp-blues guitarwork. “Devil’s Stomp” offers up another
understated intro that is randomly punctuated with sledgehammer blows of bass
drum or wide slashes of wiry guitar. Lee’s fretwork here is simply
unbelievable, a pissed-off serpent that blindly strikes at anything within
range while Gillen’s black cat moan rides high above the fracas. A bonus track tacked
on to the back end of this Badlands reissue, “Ball & Chain,” is a rollicking blues-rock fever dream
with a maddening recurring riff and enough cacophonic, cascading rhythms to
make the most jaded of us wet our diapers in glee.


Reading through the liner notes
in the deluxe sixteen-page booklet that accompanies this Rock Candy reissue of Badlands, it’s
amazing that the album was ever made in the first place. Label executives
imagined a far different band than that which they signed, and kept trying to
force them into the mold of washed-up hair-metal hacks rather than the young
soul rebels they obviously were. The producer caused a split between the band’s
leads (Gillen and Lee) and the rhythm section, and at one point some damn fool
suit wanted to toss Lee from the band that he started up in the first place.


all the madness and the tension, a classic album was created, however, and Badlands stands today as a pinnacle of
the hard rock heights that were first explored by the Yardbirds, mapped by Eric
Clapton and Cream, and explored by Zeppelin, Mountain, and other fellow
travelers during the 1970s. Tossing aside the mindless hedonism and cretin
worldview of other Hollywood
street rats, and refusing to be bound by trends
and expectations, Badlands aspired to more,
and for a brief shining moment at the end of the 1980s, they achieved rock ‘n’
roll nirvana.


DOWNLOAD: “High Wire,” “Dreams In The
Dark,” “Devil’s Stomp” REV. KEITH A. GORDON


Badlands – Voodoo Highway [reissue]

January 01, 1970

Candy Records)


If their
self-titled 1989 album had proven to be a difficult birth, with Badlands’
manager usurping the producer’s chair, and with Atlantic Records A&R
“whiz” Jason Flom demanding a more commercial-sounding (i.e. trendy)
sound from the band, Voodoo Highway would, in the end, be the band’s undoing.


touring for the better part of a year in the wake of Badlands, long-simmering
tensions within the band would boil over at the end of the road. Singer Ray
Gillen and guitarist Jake Lee were determined to eject drummer Eric Singer from
the fold, with only bassist Greg Chaisson speaking on Singer’s behalf…a strange
turn of events as Singer and Chaisson had been at odds from day one. Badlands
found a new drummer in Jeff Martin, who had fronted L.A. speed-metal outfit
Racer’s X as their vocalist. Other changes were afoot, as the band kicked
manager/producer Paul O’Neil to the curb, Lee taking over the controls for the
production of Voodoo Highway.


With Lee
at the helm, recording for Voodoo Highway started out better than the debut album, but would soon be undermined when
Gillen went behind his bandmates’ backs to tattle to Flom that the band had
more commercially-oriented songs that they were neglecting to record. It made
for an uneasy vibe in the studio, production was eventually halted and then
re-started, and by the time that Voodoo Highway actually hit the streets in 1991, Atlantic Records had officially washed its
hands of the band.


T’was a
shame, really, ’cause the label may have been able to bank a little dinero had
they shown the slightest interest in the success of Voodoo Highway.
The band’s overt musical worship of Led Zeppelin was tempered in favor of a
more streamlined metal-edged sound with just a bit of Southern-fried twang and
a little good ol’ fashioned rock ‘n’ roll funkiness.  Gillen’s voice still soars menacingly like a
hungry bird of prey, and the new rhythm section of Chaisson and Martin meshed
nicely into a solid foundation that, while not as bombastic as Singer’s eardrum
assault, had enough big-beat bluster to shame any hard rock pretenders. As for
Lee’s guitar, the man remains one of the most underrated of guitar heroes, Voodoo
displaying a wide range of the man’s


off with chiming guitars and a swelling tsunami of rhythm, Gillen’s
leather-lunged wail opens “The Last Time” with a spark, the song’s
lyrics referencing, in passing, the Temptations/Rare Earth Motown gem “(I
Know) I’m Losing You” in building an emotionally-draining performance.
Gillen’s tortured vox are complimented by Lee’s raging fretwork, Badlands
sounding more like a bluesy Guns N’ Roses than a Zeppelin clone. Things quiet
down somewhat for “Show Me The Way,” the acoustic-strum intro leading
into a muscular mid-tempo rocker with Gillen back into Robert Plant mode while
Lee fills in around the edges of the bass/drums stomp with shards of
razor-edged guitar.


Mississippi funk of “Whiskey Dust” takes the band to its
stripped-down, swamp-blues roots with a swaggering vocal performance by Gillen,
an amped-up riff copped straight from Tony Joe White’s “Poke Salad Annie”
– perhaps the best since Jason & the Scorchers mangled the song a
half-decade earlier. Lee’s chicken-pickin’ is the greasiest you’ll hear outside
of the Delta, each note lovingly covered in blood and mud. The instrumental
“Joe’s Blues” is a showcase for Lee’s nimble-fingered fretwork, a
lively country-blues number that is immediately steamrollered by the metal mastodon
that is “Soul Stealer.”


With a
powerful vocal performance that cleverly blends Plant and Jim Morrison for a
little grimy transcendence, “Soul Stealer” is the kind of
evolved-in-a-straight-line-from-Zeppelin number that the Cult, Kingdom Come, or
a dozen other clones would have liked to record. Lee’s guitar shakes and
rattles like a wild boar stuck with a hunter’s arrows, while the rhythm section
hits harder than a B-52 on a bombing run, the song’s blues roots all but
obliterated under an explosive rock ‘n’ roll sunburst.


A loud,
taut guitar riff blasts the dust from your eardrums before Gillen’s blustery
vocals kick in on “Love Don’t Mean A Thing,” the song displaying a
little o’ that whiteboy foot shuffle that everybody from Humble Pie and Jo Jo
Gunne to even GN’R had tried to perfect with varying success. Lee’s riffing
here is monster, blasting out of your speakers like that hungry alien
facesucker leaping like a fiend from its host belly to attach itself to
Sigourney Weaver’s goodies. The title track lives up to its top-o-the-line
billing with a dark-hued blues romp firmly rooted like cypress in some Louisiana
swamp, Gillen’s slinky vocals assisted by Lee’s slithering Dobro pull.


Voodoo Highway contains the only cover song of Badlands’ two albums, a spirited take of James Taylor’s
“Fire And Rain.” While Gillen’s voice lacks the warm sensitivity of
Taylor’s, he does a fine job of connecting with the material, bringing a little
rock ‘n’ roll energy to the lyrics while the band’s high-octane arrangement
builds upon the original with emotional fretwork and a loose-knit rhythm track.
Lee, again, brings out the best in the song with a nervy solo that cuts to the
quick. This performance is echoed again in the album-closing “In A
Dream,” an R&B-tinged ballad with gospel undertones, Gillen’s soulful
vocals carrying the song until Lee’s subtle, high-lonesome guitar strum kicks
in and underscores the emotion of the lyrics.


Icarus soaring too close to the sun, Badlands’ defiant approach to their music
would fly in the face of contemporary trends and eventually unravel the band’s
delicate chemistry. By the time that Voodoo Highway was released in 1991, the juggernaut that was grunge would dominate the charts.
While Badlands’ rootsy blues-metal would have creatively fit in perfectly
between Pearl Jam’s arena-rock dreams and Nirvana’s complex punk-metal hybrid,
label indifference and eventual hostility would put the band on the street within
a year.


Ray Gillen
would be sacked, then re-hired for an ill-fated U.K. tour when the band was
unable to find a suitable replacement…in the end, Gillen was as essential to
the Badlands’ sound as guitarist Lee, and after recording a slate of demos for
a possible Sony deal in late 1991, the band would break-up for good when Gillen
seemingly sabotaged the deal by refusing a label-mandated physical exam. Gillen
would be gone for good after dying of AIDS-related illness in December 1993.


casualty of label hijinx and the demanding rock star lifestyle, Badlands had
its shot at the brass ring, only to see the rug pulled out from beneath them
time after time. Between band in-fighting, creative tensions, and unrealistic
label expectations, Badlands was doomed from day one…and still, they managed to
deliver two classic albums of influential hard rock and blues-metal, all of the
band’s artistic battles and macho turf-fighting resulting in a rare and unique
musical chemistry. With the long overdue re-release of both Badlands and Voodoo Highway, Badlands’
often-overlooked musical legacy is ripe for rediscovery.  


DOWNLOAD: “Heaven’s Train,” “Whiskey
Dust,” “Fire And Rain” REV. KEITH A. GORDON


Wailin’ Jennys – Bright Morning Stars

January 01, 1970

(Red House)


Like Dala and the Be Good Tanyas, the Wailin’ Jennys have
captured the hearts and affections of fans and folkies alike with their
delicate three part harmonies and a host of inspired melodies. A combination of
three impressive stand-alone resumes (those of members Ruth Moody, Nicky Mehta
and Heather Masse), they’ve evolved as a female folk super group of sorts, one
that thrives in the midst of their successful solo careers. This, the third
studio album by this charming trio from Winnipeg Canada, soars on the strength
of their glorious harmonies and arrangements that manage to be both delicate
yet effusive all at the same time. Like their peers, the Jennys have a way of
making original tunes – “Bird Song,” “Across the Sea” and “Asleep at Last”
being the most stunning examples – emulate an age-old pedigree, as if they were
reframing traditional music and claiming it as their own.


Granted, there’s certain preciousness in their approach,
which often blurs the distinction between individual entries. That’s the hazard
borne by these sparse set-ups, where the vocals are rendered practically a
cappella and the accompaniment often seems incidental. Still, it’s a small
price to pay, and songs like the gospel-tinged “Storm Comin’,” the Celtic-like
hymns “Mona Louise” and “Bright Morning Stars,” and the music hall melody of
“Cherry Blossom Love” ably diversify the mix while maintaining the charm.
Suffice it to say Bright Morning Stars is a lovely way to start any day… and an equally absorbing way to close it out
as well.


Louise,” “Bird Song,” “Cherry Blossom Love” LEE ZIMMERMAN

Willie Wright – Telling the Truth

January 01, 1970

(The Numero Group)


Wright’s Telling the Truth, the
latest reissue/rediscovery from the archivists at Chicago’s Numero
Group, gets off to one strange start. A jivey voice, which
sounds like it’s introducing a live-radio broadcast from a glittery nightclub,
cheerily says, “Hello, music people of the world. Hotel Records and Variety
Recording at 130 West 42nd St. in New
York City, we proudly present Mr. Willie Wright.”
There’s a slight New York
accent to the voice and you wonder what kind of dated, hipsterish hokum you’re
in for. But then Wright starts to sing a laid-back, introspective, lilting
jazzy-folk number – ” Nantucket Woman” – pushed gently forward by the
expansive, Allman Brother guitar licks of the fine Harry Jensen, and you’re
taken aback. This sounds intimate, personal, real. What gives?


all part of Wright’s unusual story – this album was originally (and barely)
released in 1977, when Wright was just shy of 40. An African-American born in
the South who moved early to New York, discovered his relaxed, mellifluous,
honeyed voice (with a touch of Lou Rawls) and spent a peripatetic career
traveling between New York, Boston and points between.


He could
have had a career in the 1970s to match Bill Withers, O.C. Smith or Terry
Callier. And he seems to have tried. But he also seems to have been infused
with quite a bit of the countercultural spirit. According to the copiously
detailed liner notes accompanying this reissue, he and a partner once ran a
head shop in Allston, Mass., but broke up when he wanted to shift
all the contents vertically by 90 degrees. That meant the counter and clerks
would have to be suspended from the ceiling, which struck the partner as a bit


that kind of spirit is why Telling the
was released on Wright’s own barebones Hotel Records. And in order to
afford its production, he cut a deal with Variety Recording, a studio. It
halved its rate and got a plug on the album’s first cut. Wright pressed just
1,000 copies, selling them himself in Nantucket
where he was a popular club draw.


All this
makes Wright seem like a total eccentric, a flake, but he doesn’t sound like
that at all. True, the production limits the dimensionality of the recording,
so his voice isn’t as dynamic as it could be. But nevertheless, it is friendly
and unpretentious, romantic but never melodramatic – it finds the groove and
works intuitively with the limited accompaniment (he, himself, plays rhythm
guitar and flute). At times, the songs have a solid Southern rock-and-soul
dimension. These are tunes Van Morrison would love – quietly trying to push the
romantic into the mystic. Greg Allman, too, would have admired the funky-rock
fatalism of “It’s Only Life, That’s All.”


The songs
are often quite touching lyrically. Wright seems to know his dreams of musical
success are slipping from him, and he expresses it with wise resignation. He
seems badly to want love – a good relationship – and to need it to get by.
(Apparently he found it on occasion. the photo above depicts Wright with his
“one-time muse” Susan Hayes.) In “Dressing for the Occasion,” he finds solace
from job-hunting frustrations in his woman’s love. On “In the Beauty of the
Night,” a ballad that Wright prefaces with flute and some dreamy “la la las,”
he sings, “Searching through our sounds, for
our favorite LPs/There isn’t anywhere on earth I’d rather be.”


to the liner notes, Wright had a troubled family life. And that seems to bother
him. The ballad, “Son, Don’t Let Life Pass You By,” which has some gorgeous
minor-key chord changes to highlight its generous lyrics, is directed toward a
resentful offspring. The piano wisely plays off of Jensen’s guitar – at key
moments the voice is double-tracked. On the carefully pulsating groove of the
celebratory “I’m So Happy Now,” Wright is joined by a daughter on back-up
vocals: “Finally decided, we can’t be divided.”


reissue includes three extra cuts, two of which are also included on a CD-45.
One is a version of Curtis Mayfield’s powerful “Right On for the Darkness.”


now just over 70, lives in Providence
and fights  Parkinson’s disease. Numero Group doesn’t dwell on this, but the liner
notes do have a recent quote from him: “I’m trying to do something comfortable
with my life. It’s not really about the money. I want to contribute
something…something timeless.”


He’s a
little late getting discovered, but with Telling
the Truth
he just might have done that.


Listen to tracks from the Wright
album at the Numero site.


DOWNLOAD: “Nantucket Woman,” “Son, Don’t Let
Your Life Pass You By.” STEVEN ROSEN

Colin Stetson – New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges

January 01, 1970



Colin Stetson probably could be called a “Saxophone
Colossus,” were that term not claimed long ago by the jazz great Sonny Rollins.
But Stetson, who plays solo alto, tenor and bass saxophones on New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges,

isn’t really a jazz player per se. He belongs more to the
“creative music” movement, championed by people like John Zorn, Laurie
Anderson, the National’s Bryce Dessner and other experimentalists who have both
rock awareness and a heady taste for the new and untried (and arty).


What Stetson, an Ann Arbor
native (who has a music degree from University
of Michigan) and who now lives in Montreal, brings to such
exploratory music is phenomenal use of what’s known as circular breathing –
breathing in while blowing out a note. That gives his sound – or, rather,
sounds, since he plays several different saxophones – a transfixing, hypnotic
backbeat that is much like deep breathing. And then he builds his solos up from
it. His liner notes say he uses virtually no overdubs or loops – all songs but
one are recorded in single takes. If so, that’s an amazing testament to what he
can pull from his saxophones – it sure sounds like some kind of keyboard/synth
is swirling around his crying, growling horn on “Awake on Foreign Shores,”
for instance.


Overall, Stetson’s music has enough cutting-edge alt-rock
spirit that he has opened concerts for Arcade Fire and the National. (And one
song on this, his second album, is a cover of Bell Orchestre’s “The Stars in
His Head.”) But the most obvious influence would be Anderson, herself, and the
way she builds a mysterious rock-like momentum from the breathy circularity of
her voice, which can take on a variety of sounds as she alters it. Fittingly,
then, Anderson contributes spoken vocals to four songs here – on three of which
she gets a writing credit. They are mysterious and compelling; “A Dream of
Water” conjures imagery both abstract and nightmarish.


Another vocalist contributes an outstanding track, too –
Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond offers a hushed, siren-like vocal on the
traditional “Lord, I Just Can’t Keep From Crying Sometimes,” with Stetson’s
minimalist saxophone providing a mournful buzz behind her that keeps
threatening to explode. When experimental-based music has just enough pop
sensibility to be accessible without compromising itself, it feels special.
That’s this album.


“Lord I Just Can’t Keep From Crying Sometimes” STEVEN ROSEN


Vinicius Cantuaria & Bill Frisell – Lagrimas Mexicanas

January 01, 1970

(eOne Music)


Bill Frisell can send heads to spinning trying to figure out how he
works those loops he manipulates. All by himself, he can make music that wraps
around multiple melodic and rhythmic lines conjured by his guitar. Give the man
a partner, who also plays guitar, and throw in percussion, and you’ve got
something unimaginably tricky.


Which is not to say you’ve got something that’s anything but
compelling and frequently beautiful. Vinicius Cantuaria has been a leading
light of Brazilian pop music for decades, and he meets Frisell at the midpoint
of their respective interests as composers. 
Cantuaria has worked with rock and jazz musicians ranging from David
Byrne to Brad Mehldau, so he doesn’t restrict 
himself to the traditional styles of his homeland, ever-changing as they
are. Frisell loves to take his improvisational background and tone it down to
fit the restrictions of simpler forms. Lagrimas
is something unique to both their recorded oeuvres.


Students of Latin and Brazilian music will recognize forms taken from
all over Central and South America and the Caribbean.
Cantuaria sings mostly in Portugese, but occasionally in Spanish and once in
English. Each piece is co-composed by Frisell and Cantuaria, and they build up
complex layers of structure through loops and possibly overdubs (the liner
notes don’t specify).  There can be two
different percussive sounds, two acoustic guitar rhythm parts, two electric
guitar lines, and Cantuaria’s vocals, all wrapping around each other into a
stunning overlap of texture and melody.


Opening cut “Mi Declaracion,” is a darkly foreboding mood piece with
an exquisite vocal and Frisell’s trademark guitar sounds. “Lagrimas de Amor” is
a joyous piece which doesn’t exactly reflect the title, which translates to
“Tears of Love.” “Aquela Mulher” is built on Cantuaria’s Jobim-like acoustic
guitar and vocal, while Frisell dances his twin electric lines around the basic
piece. Strangest, and perhaps strongest of all, is “Briga de Namorados,” which
starts and ends with a ragtime structure applied to multiple guitars, and then
shifts into a mid-20th Century classical mode for a couple minutes
in the middle.


fits no preconceived slots, yet perfectly captures the meeting of two
musical minds of distinctive bent. Frisell and Cantuaria have guest-starred
with each other before, but this first complete collaboration demands that they
work together some more.


DOWNLOAD: “Briga de
Namorados,” “Lagrimas de Amor,” “Mi Declaracion” STEVE PICK

Paper Tiger – Me Have Fun

January 01, 1970

(Boy Girl Recordings)


By way of introduction: Paper
Tiger is an Asheville, NC, -based duo, vocalist Molly Kummerle (of
well-known regional jazz/pop outfit Ruby Slippers) and Isaac Gottfried (aka
MINGLE, noted deejay and remixer). Since joining forces a couple of years ago,
Kummerle and Gottfried have quickly amassed a reputation for crafting brainy
electronica that dips equally into hypnotic trip-hop and danceable, pop-tilting
sampladelica; they were among a handful of local acts selected to perform at last
fall’s MoogFest, which featured such heavy-hitters as Massive Attack, Big Boi,
Jonsi and MGMT. Me Have Fun (Boy Girl
Recordings), their debut, more than reaffirms that reputation – in its quietly
compelling, get-under-your-skin brand of understatement, it actually winds up
saying more than 99% of the new
releases that have appeared so far this year.


First and foremost, Kummerle
brings her jazz-trained pipes to the party with such seductive grace that you
half expect her to step out from behind the stereo speakers wearing nothing but
a sheer silk robe and a coy smile. Yet there’s also a palpable vulnerability to
that voice. The first time you hear her clearly is in the second song, the
title track, cooing “ahh-ahh-mmm” softly, but with purpose, and as the smokey, loungey tune gradually unfolds, the
singer confesses her lust and her confusion and to how her “rules start to come
undone” as she confronts that desire. In her voice, one hears echoes of Dusty
Springfield, Billie Holiday, Beth Orton and Beth Gibbons – fire and ice, ice
and fire.


The Gibbons comparison isn’t
a stray one, by the way; Portishead is the contemporary act that Paper Tiger
most closely resembles, along with fellow Bristolians Massive Attack. Gottfried’s
fertile trove of samples and liberal deployment of keyboards (by both Gottfried
and Kummerle, plus guest Chuck Lichtenberger from stephaniesid) all synch organically
to cast a widescreen, cinematic glow. From the sweeping strings and noirish vibe of “Hibiscus” and the
chilly orchestral minimalism of “Softly” to the eerie-yet-lush “Hugo,” whose
Beach Boys sample is guaranteed to permanently alter the way you hear “Good Vibrations,”
these compositions push beyond merely “compelling” to become insistent, the transformation occurring
on an almost subliminal level. Another band simpatico with Paper Tiger’s crate-digging
aesthetic: Saint Etienne, particularly on the surreal, flute-and-horns flecked
“Paper Tiger” and the dreamy, yearning “Freezer” (with its suite-like
arrangement that slips deliciously into breezy ‘60s pop mode, then back again,
this song is destined to find its way onto a movie or TV show soundtrack with
the right marketing push).


Seamlessly sequenced, with
Gottfried supplying brief (under 30 seconds) instrumental interludes between
each proper song to lend an additional filmic heft to the proceedings, and
remarkably diverse for a quote/unquote “downtempo” project, Me Have Fun is the type of record that
pays dividend after dividend with each new spin. It’s the sound of late-night
romance, of early-morning musings, and of all the refracted beauty of the
daylight that falls between.


Incidentally, don’t bother
Googling the band’s name; it’ll just drive you crazy, as there is also a Dutch
indierock band called Paper Tiger, a rock/funk outfit from Wisconsin called
Paper Tiger, the Doomtree hip-hop collective producer who calls himself Paper
Tiger, some teenage band that goes by the handle of My Paper Tiger, and assorted
non-musical Paper Tiger entities. If you want to chase down this Paper Tiger and hear assorted album
tunes and remixes, go directly to the website listed above or to the duo’s
MySpace page. But be careful: the music may be atmospheric and dreamy, but it’s
hardly toothless. Once it gets you in its maw, it doesn’t let go. Rrrrowwrrr.


DOWNLOAD: “Freezer,” “Paper Tiger,” “Me Have Fun,” “Hugo,” “Hibiscus” FRED MILLS

Chandler Travis Philharmonic – Blows!

January 01, 1970

(Sonic Trout)


The world is full of acts who get it into their heads they
can revive (imitate) some specific past musical genre or other and devote a
career to it. They can be pretty good at it, but are also totally unnecessary
when the real thing is preserved on record. Rarer, however, are those acts that
have assimilated all sorts of musical styles – from rock to ragtime, brass band
and klezmer to jump blues, swinging dance music to sensitive songwriting – and
know how to mix it all together with energy, humor, unpretentiousness and
consummate chops.


They are not imitators; they’re creating something new out
of a knowledge of the past and a joy for the present. NRBQ comes immediately to
mind (although they’re on hiatus while members pursue individual projects). But
another band that belongs in this category is Boston’s Chandler Travis
Philharmonic. Travis’ history is actually intertwined with NRBQ’s – Johnny
Spampinato was a member of Travis’ Incredible Casuals band before joining his
brother Joey in NRBQ. But more than that, the overall sensibility is close.


Blows first and
foremost is a showcase for the horn section – at various times ten players are
featured, and they add cheerfully exciting color and snazziness to the
proceedings. And goofiness – the polite punctuations on “Fruit Bat Fun” sound
like a novelty hit. But then the players go off on irresistible, finely attuned
solos that flow together like hot lava and the song climbs to a higher level.
It’s like Mingus’ Big Band with grounding in rock rhythm (courtesy of drummer
Rikki Bates), or Sun Ra’s Arkestra playing with NRBQ.


But as satisfying as the Philharmonic is musically, and as
prone as Travis is to let the songs exist primarily to showcase the playing, he
is also a fine pop singer-songwriter. His ear for melody, as well as his smarts
at combining humor with romanticism and mundane observations with the poetic,
place him with Todd Rundgren or Ben Folds. And his voice can have the tender
vulnerability of Terry Adams.


While his recent solo album, After She Left, showed that writing talent off, he has saved some
poignant tunes for this. “Anne,” with a lovely opening trumpet flourish reminiscent
of “For No One,” and about an alluring neighbor, starts with this lovely,
novelistic refrain: “When it’s after
Judge Judy in the afternoon/And it’s time to walk the dogs/Across the
street/Sometimes I see a friendly face.”
It tells as much about him – and
his life – as her.


The humor of “The Day the Casuals Went to Sweden” is so
deadpan – a la Randy Newman – it can be hard to realize how excited Travis is
about this travel adventure. That sneaks up on you as the details accumulate
and the Dixieland horn arrangement provides momentum.


Travis seems to be so in demand in Massachusetts as a live
act (and a musical institution) that he doesn’t get out much beyond that area.
Glad to know he has such a supportive base, but it’s a shame for the wider
world. The Philharmonic could tear up the summer festival circuit – maybe on a
bill with a reunited NRBQ?


Bat Fun,” “Anne” STEVEN ROSEN



Smith Westerns – Dye It Blonde

January 01, 1970

(Fat Possum)


It seems
as though the members of the young, savage Chicago indie-glam outfit Smith
Westerns caught a little of the glitter residue that sprinkled off their label Fat Possum’s recent reissue of T. Rex’s The Slider. On the followup to their
eponymous 2010 debut, the band completely punches up the pomp to their sonic
circumstance, deepening the melodic undercurrents of their collective jones for
all things Marc Bolan, Sweet and the first Suede album. Here, the 10 new songs show
how these kids harbor performance chops that deceptively belie their young
median age.


The main
ingredient of these tracks can be traced to the knockout songwriting skills of
frontman Cullen Omori and guitar hero Max Kakacek. Songs
like the Orbison-esque “Still New”, the ELO death trip “Imagine
Pt. 3” and the grandiose, Pulp-like “Smile” seem eons away from
the dodgy lo-fi production of their first LP, thanks to the formidable skills
of Chris Coady, who brings the same sense of artful bombast to Dye It Blonde as he has to the music of
TV On The Radio, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and !!! in previous years.


And while the fact that Omori and Kakacek have proven to
possess the kind of aptitude for songcraft that would have earned them
side-by-side desks at the Brill Building back in the ‘60s, it’s Kakacek’s
stellar guitar playing – a unique fusion of Peter Buck jangle, George Harrison
drama and Mick Ronson bravado – that really sends this record over the moon, as
duly noted at the outset with Blonde’s buoyant opening cut “Weekend”. If these youngsters continue to travel
at the rapid speed by which they are evolving, Smith Westerns could reach
supernova faster than you can say “Buick MacKane”. 


DOWNLOAD: “Weekend”,
“Still New”, “Imagine Pt. 3”, “Smile” RON HART

The David Mayfield Parade – The David Mayfield Parade

January 01, 1970

(9th Grade Records)


David Mayfield is one versatile Nashville cat. He used to
gig around as a hired gun, playing guitar for country ace Andy Griggs, and he’s
spent the last couple years as a member of experimental newgrass crew Cadillac
Sky. Recently, though, Mayfield was encouraged by his buddies the Avett
Brothers to make a solo record. The result, The
David Mayfield Parade
, is a new direction with Mayfield moving toward
lovesick vintage country and old-school soulful pop.


One thing Mayfield definitely took from the Avetts is that
there’s no shame in wearing your heart on your sleeve. With a voice that’s as
cozy and comforting as James Taylor by a winter evening fire, Mayfield spends
the album’s 11 tracks trying to perfect the love song. Whether he’s playing it
through the scope of a Buddy Holly-style rocker (“Noreen”), a delicate folk
ballad (“Blue Skies Again”), or a waltzing duet with Caitlin Rose (“Faraway
Love”), Mayfield finds plenty of interesting ways to deliver his heartbroken
troubadour message.


He also gets plenty of help from his friends, as Scott and
Seth Avett lend their typically infectious ragged harmonies to the rootsy
stomper “I Just Might Pray,” and Mayfield’s singer-songwriter sister, Jessica
Lea, adds soft backing vocals to the album’s lone cover, a fitting rendition of
Don Gibson’s “Sea of Heartbreak.”  


Might Pray,” “Blue Skies Again” JEDD FERRIS