Monthly Archives: April 2011

Už Jsme Doma – Caves

January 01, 1970

(Cuneiform)

 

www.cuneiformrecords.com

 

The long-running Už Jsme Doma has been through a quarter
century of mayhem, beginning its intricately-plotted, anarchically-energized
career in then Soviet-dominated Czechoslovakia.
Early on, the band played in secret, risked imprisonment and joined in
resistance efforts to form a more democratic state. Then, post-glasnost, they
emerged onto a larger, international stage, touring Europe and the United
States and once, serving as backing band for American art eccentrics, the
Residents.

 

Now, 11 albums and hoards of members later (Pepe Cervinka is
the band’s ninth  bassist), the band
careens on. No founders remain. The last remaining original member was
saxophonist Jindra Dolansky, and he left in 2001. Yet under the direction of
longtime singer, songwriter and lyricist Miroslav Wanek, Už Jsme Doma plots a
high-intensity, exotically complex course. It’s prog from Prague, certainly,
but there are also hints of marching band music, workingmen’s chants, jazz,
folk and even early 20th century classical music in these
hard-to-categorize tunes.

 

Caves is sung entirely in Czech, but liner notes reveal the
songs to be preoccupied with the action of water on stone, the drip by drip
erosion that can carve caverns out of solid rock or, perhaps, democratic
freedoms out of oppressive regimes. The music, though, works more like a bag of
hammers than a steady drip, punching out dense, conflicting, bayonet ridges of
percussive sound. Drums, guitars, bass and keyboards all take a pounding in
these songs, banged in intricate, staccato bursts, sometimes in unison,
sometimes in overlapping synchronicity.  

 

But to continue the water metaphor , there are two main
source of fluidity here. One is Wanek’s voice, which soars in triumphant,
Soviet-bloc certitude over all. He is joined, often enough, by a gang of male
voices singing in unison, like some sort of asymmetrical, off-kilter opera
chorus, shouting rhythmically (“Fascination”) or executing complicated
counterpoints as on frantic, manic “Reel.” At other times, as on the oddly
paced, quietly syncopated “Nugget,” Wanek trades melodic lead with
trumpeter  Adam Tomásek, who came into
the band after Dolansky left. Tomásek’s arrival set off a re-alignment of Už
Jsme Doma, as Wanek began writing what had been lead guitar lines for trumpet.

 

Most of the songs are aggressively paced, with rapid
interplay among guitar and bass and continuous explosiveness emanating from the
drums. Parts are intricately plotted, interlocking with each other in tight yet
unexpected ways. Intervals of lyricism – the stand-up bass and recorder
tranquility of album-ending “Lullaby for Anezka” – show this band’s sensitive
side, as does a close reading of Wanek’s lyrics. Yet, on the whole, Caves knocks you over with its
ceaseless, exuberant energy. Granted, running water will wear down mountains in
time, but a jackhammer is so much faster.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Nugget” “Fascination” JENNIFER
KELLY

Sonny & the Sunsets – Hit After Hit

January 01, 1970

(Fat
Possum)

 

www.fatpossum.com

 

When we caught up with Sonny
Smith last, the SF Renaissance man was putting the final touches on 100
singles, each by a different imaginary band with its own look, feel and sound. These
songs were performed by a series of guest artists, some of them actual living
humans (Tim Cohen, Heidi Alexander) and others figments of Smith’s fertile
imagination.

 

Hit After Hit revisits a couple of the 100 Songs, plus a slew
of new ones. They’re all performed in Smith’s own persona and with his regular
band – Kelley Stoltz, Tahlia
Harbour and Ryan Browne. The
four of them work in a shuffling, 1960s garage idiom, with slackened beats
under twanging surf guitars, rumbling bass and sweetly disoriented
call-and-response interplay.

 

So far, what we’ve described
falls into dime-a-dozen territory, especially in garage psychedelic Northern California, but the difference here is quality. Smith
has a knack for tossing off beautifully constructed songs with a casual shrug,
and shrouding striking melodies with a shambling, rumpled finish. If you
envision a very well-made tweed jacket from, say, 1963, that has been tossed
and tumbled and left in the dust, you can get a pretty good idea of the
combination of excellence and dishevelment.

 

The disc starts strong with
“She Plays Yo Yo with My Mind,” a slanting, sidelong venture into surfy
psychedelia. The tune follows a blues-warping guitar riff so relaxed that that
seems, almost, to nod off at the end of measures, only to be shaken awake by
maracas. It is, nonetheless, pure pleasure and deadpan funny, as Smith
describes romantic confusion in the most literal terms (“green is yellow/and
sock is shoe”).

The two holdovers from 100
Songs
are also winners, both shaded slightly differently from the guest
artist versions. “I Wanna Do It,” sung on the single by Heidi Alexander of the
Sandwitches, turns more aggressively sexual in this doo-woppy version, perhaps
because of Smith’s deeper, less inflected vocal style. (That is, his “I Wanna
Do It” sounds a more serious and obsessive and possibly illegal.)   “Teenage Thug” given a Latin treatment in
100 Songs, goes Anglo here and takes on some political shadings. It’s no longer
a retro, photogenic Sharks Vs. Jets violence in the track, but more of a Middle
Eastern jihadist kind of thing. The difference between the two versions is so
illuminating that I kind of wish I had guest-sung versions of the other songs,
just for context and in case I missed things the first time.

 

Still, you don’t really need
to capture every nuance to enjoy songs like “Heart of Sadness” or “Girls
Beware” or the all-instrumental “The Bad Energy From LA is Killing Me”. These
are fun songs, silly songs, but they are also well-written and melodically
addictive.  The sloppy charm is just a
façade. Don’t be fooled for a minute.

 

DOWNLOAD: “She Plays Yo Yo with My Mind,” “Teenage Thugs” JENNIFER KELLY

Traffic – John Barleycorn Must Die (Deluxe Edition)

January 01, 1970

(Universal)

 

www.universalmusic.com

 

What began
as a Steve Winwood solo effort would become, with help from bandmates Jim
Capaldi and Chris Wood, Traffic’s breakthrough album. Released in 1970, long
after the band’s initial break-up, John
Barleycorn Must Die
took Traffic’s prog-folk roots and jam-band tendencies
and added dollops of jazz-fusion and rock ‘n’ roll experimentation. Songs like
“Freedom Rider,” “Every Mother’s Son,” and the AOR hit
“Empty Pages” wrote the musical blueprint that would result in
Traffic’s subsequent commercial and critically successful early-‘70s albums.

 

The deluxe
John Barleycorn Must Die drops two
bonus tracks from earlier reissues in favor of a second disc with three
alternative mixes and six live tracks from a frequently-bootlegged November
1970 Fillmore East show. The original version of the title track is more
melancholy and mesmerizing than the subsequent (album) take, with Wood’s flute
pushed higher, while the alternative “Every Mothers Son” is more
vibrant and guitar-heavy. Of the live tracks, “Medicated Goo” is a
funky triumph; “40,000 Headmen” is simply otherworldly, with an
enchanting mix of prog-rock and jazz; while “Glad” and “Freedom
Rider” are mashed together into a single exhilarating musical odyssey. The
entire performance is well worth the price of admission. 

 

DOWNLOAD: “Empty Pages,” “Medicated
Goo” (live) REV. KEITH A. GORDON

 

 

Mixtures – Stompin’ at the Rainbow

January 01, 1970

(Minky)

 

www.myspace.com/551821133

 

The United
States in the early 1960s was unfortunately
still a hotbed of ignorance, racism and legalized segregation. Such was not the
case, however, at the famous Rainbow Gardens in Pomona, California, where The Mixtures reigned supreme as the
kings of the East L.A. dance hall scene. This
multi-culti sextet had gringos, Chicanos, brothers, Asians and American Indians
in their ranks, and together they created a buoyant, harmonious house party
atmosphere in the grand schema of such prolific acts at the time as Sam the
Sham and the Pharaohs and ? and the Mysterians.

 

Stompin’ at the
Rainbow
is the definitive guide to this lost treasure of West Coast pop
history, gathering together a jubilant 1962 live album from the Rainbow (originally
released by Linda Records). For the CD version, all six singles the band recorded
for the label at the time are added, making this a wonderful discovery for
anyone with a deep appreciation of classic American pop in the Kennedy era.

 

DOWNLOAD: “The
Rainbow Stomp Pt. 1”, “Olive Oyl” RON HART

 

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – Here We Rest

January 01, 1970

(Lightning
Rod)

 

www.lightningrodrecords.com

 

Up on my
wall is a Jason Isbell poster from a brief acoustic tour he did in support of
his solo debut Sirens of the Ditch, released
in the summer of 2007 a few months after his split from the Drive-By Truckers.
Right under the autograph he inscribed for my kid the poster reads “acclaimed
songwriter and guitarist formerly of the Drive-By Truckers.” That got me to
thinking recently, while I was playing his third post-DBTs album: once an
artist enters a new, clearly defined phase, for how long should the artist
expect his or her former life to shadow (and in some instances, overshadow) the
subsequent one? It’s a fair question, and a sometimes vexing one that scores of
musicians have faced over the years. With Here
We Rest
, the product of a couple of years’ worth of steady touring from
Isbell and his band the 400 Unit behind their self-titled 2008 release, the
answer can be found in the songs and the sonics.

 

The combo
– Isbell, guitarist Browan Lollar, bassist Jimbo Hart, drummer Chad Gamble,
keyboardist Derry deBorja – eases into the 11-song record like a group easing
into a live set via the gentle country-folk of “Alabama Pines” which, with its
musical overtones of Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Boxer” and a storyline about
a lost soul desperate to reconnect with humanity, and with himself (“I don’t
even need a name anymore,” sings Isbell). The fireworks, literal and subliminal,
start going off soon after. “Go It Alone,” about another person who finds
himself at a personal crossroads, is served up on bed of anthemic Stones and
Petty, while the reflective, seen-through-another’s-eyes “Stopping By,” is
luminous with piano and jangly guitar and a sweetly-wrought bridge, not to
mention containing one of Isbell’s most memorable lines ever (“I think the best
of me is still standing in the doorway”). The band takes a trip down to New
Orleans with the rollicking, percussive, Little Feat-esque “Never Could Believe,”
then slips back into Muscle Shoals under the cover of darkness with a smoky,
deeply soulful cover of the Candi Staton nugget “Heart On A String,” originally
recorded by Staton at Muscle Shoals way back in 1970 and here rendered as a
deeply soulful duet between Isbell and Georgia songbird Abby Owens. Somewhere
along the way they find time to detour through Appalachia
for the bluegrass-flavored “Tour of Duty,” about a returning soldier painfully
aware that he’s damaged goods no matter how chipper a face he puts on. (Isbell
clearly has deep empathy for our military personnel, having dipped into related
thematic waters on “Dress Blues,” from Sirens,
and 400 Unit’sSoldiers Get Strange.”)

 

Yet the
album’s clear standout is also its most left-field number, a deceptively upbeat
ditty whose tuneful, fiddle-powered (courtesy Amanda Shires, who also
contributes harmony vocals) arrangement contrasts with a markedly darker, part-cautionary
story line: the protagonist of “Codeine” sits at home, waiting for his woman,
but she ain’t coming home tonight because, as the singalong-style chorus
advises, “one of my friends has taken her in/ and feeding her codeine.” That
“Codeine” is undoubtedly destined to become both a conversation piece and a
concert crowd pleaser is testimony to Isbell’s ability to keep several lyrical
balls in the air at once – amid the heartache, the song also has some funny,
self-deprecating asides (think of the classic image of the clown who is
laughing on the outside while crying on the inside) – even as his band is
matching him mood-for-mood.

 

As Here We Rest – a phrase borrowed,
incidentally but not insignificantly, from Alabama’s original state motto,
which was adopted shortly after the Civil War ended – unfolds, it’s hard not to
think of an earlier, equally complex meditation on how people feel and act when
they find themselves at the ends of their ropes during troubled or desperate
times – Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness At
the Edge of Town
. This is not to overstate the case by saddling Isbell with
the fatal “young Springsteen tag” (much as The Boss himself was hyped, early in
his career, as yet another “young Dylan”); despite certain key age/resume
similarities between the two men at their respective stages of development, the
2011 musical milieu remains vastly different from that of 1978.

 

But
still…

 

The
Isbell record is, in a word (or several), a huge artistic achievement, and on
multiple levels: the lyrics are evocative, emotional, and multifaceted; the
music itself, deftly arranged, in archetypal tight-but-loose fashion; and the
whole thing resonates and lingers in the mind long after the disc has spun.
You’ll want to play it over and over and over, as I have. Hell, it ain’t even a
“new phase” for Isbell – he already made his leap of faith awhile back. Time for the rest of y’all to come around to that
fact.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Codeine,” “Stopping By,” “Heart
On a String,” Go It Alone” FRED MILLS

 

Go here to read BLURT editor Fred
Mills’ recent interview with Jason Isbell, who talks about the new album, about
what inspires him as a songwriter, and even a bit on his relationship with his
erstwhile bandmates in the Drive-By Truckers. See also the latest print issue
of this magazine for more Isbell.

 

La Resistance – Philosophy

January 01, 1970

(Superphonic)

 

www.superphonicrecords.net

 

The band dressed
in black with dour dispositions and the moody, pop sound hails from…..Birmingham, Alabama?!
Upon closer inspection it appears pop guy Greg Summerlin is the brainchild
behind this band. Summerlin released a few solid pop records in the past decade
then seemingly vanished.  Here he
reappeared with 3 other folks remade as a gothic pop outfit…and thankfully,
though a bit darker, the solid songwriting is still there (with hooks a
plenty). (Official band website can be found at www.laresistancemusic.com.)

 

Opener “Shells”
begin with a hark of a synthesizer then icy rhythms percolate in, the rhythm
becomes more prominent and finally Summerlin’s vocals go from meek to confident
in a matter of seconds. It’s a nice way to open a record while “Understanding”
follows a similar path but with a hook that explodes a bit more – and yup,
there, is a song called “Isolation” (figured they had to have one in the
batch). It lives up to its “I vant to be alone” name.  If you’re thinking of a Joy Division/New
Order influence here you’d be right, but while many of those band’s disciples
seem to wallow in their own self pity and trench coats, Summerlin and his crew
give the songs some real bite and hooks you can sink your teeth into.

 

Maybe there’s
more to Birmingham
than meets the eye?

 

DOWNLOAD: “Shells”, “Understanding”. “Loathing”
TIM HINELY

 

 

 

 

Foo Fighters – Wasting Light

January 01, 1970

(RCA)

 

www.rcamusicgroup.com

 

Poor Dave Grohl; he was
screwed either way. With Nirvana over in ’94, he could have either hooked up
with another band and ridden the grunge train until the it ran out of tracks
and lived with the taunts that he was feeding off the remains of one of the
most influential bands of his generation or start off with a clean slate
playing music completely different from Seattle’s favorite sons. He chose the
latter, opting for a strong rock sound, sliding into pop, and has been dealing
with the backlash for the past 17 years.

 

On Wasting Light, the Foo Fighters’ seventh record, Grohl and band
have created a near perfect rock record for every Generation X kid now settled
into life as a mature adult burdened with a mortgage, kids and the mind-numbingly
mundane job they swore they’d never have. Though the band has made some solid
albums in the past, Wasting Light is
nearly spot on from the opening track to the very end.

 

The band exorcises the demons
early on with ferocious tracks like “Bridge Burning” and “White Limo” before
sliding into the slightly mellower vibe that closes out the record. “These
Days” and “Back & Forth” are lyrically and musically among the most mature
songs in the band’s already impressive cannon.

 

Recorded on analog in his
garage studio, with fellow Nirvana alum Krist Novoselic playing bass on one track, Grohl almost tauntingly brings up the Nirvana comparisons himself by
having Butch Vig produce this record (Vig famously produced Nirvana’s Nevermind),
but the choice seems to be yet another calculated risk that pays off as the
result is destined to further cement the Foo’s reputation for being one of the
most dependably stellar rock acts of the past two decades.   

 

With the Foo Fighters, Grohl
has done what very few have managed before, closing the book on a massively
successful rock band and deftly moving to a nearly equally impressive second
act, despite many cheering for failure. John Lydon almost carried it off after
he left the Sex Pistols and formed PIL… then embarrassed himself with the numerous
pathetic Sex Pistol reunion cash grabs. 

 

DOWNLOAD: “A
Matter of Time,” “Back & Forth” and “These Days” JOHN B. MOORE

 

Low – C’mon

January 01, 1970

(Sub Pop)

 

www.subpop.com

 

Last year, Robert Plant covered two Low songs on his Band of Joy album. For some, such
recognition from a rock colossus might be a career highpoint on which to
retire. But not Low, thankfully, who are
back after a four-year hiatus. Rather than continue where they left off with
the stark, atmospheric Drums and Guns,
Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker revisit the fuller, more expansive sound of
2004’s The Great Destroyer, imbuing
their music with a fresh sense of immediacy and fleshing out the instrumental
range with help from Nels Cline (lap steel) and Caitlin Moe (violin).

 

This wider frame for Low’s unhurried, spartan melodies
and haunting vocal harmonies works wonders, but the strongest material
emphasizes a sense of contrast and tension between their hymn-like, affecting
side and occasionally harsher, more austere textures. C’mon marks the return of a band that’s still growing and exploring new avenues.
While, overall, this may not be their best work, it certainly features tracks
that rank among their finest.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Witches,”
“Nothing But Heart” WILSON NEATE

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – Belong

January 01, 1970

(Slumberland)

 

www.slumberlandrecords.com

 

Since 2009’s release of their
EP, Higher than the Stars, and their eponymous full length CD, the New
York City quintet with the aching lyrical name have become the patron saints of
arch and tiny fuzz pop and fizzy bliss, something mixing up the Smiths moaning
loneliness and My Bloody Valentine’s wall of wheeze only less so.

 

This time out the Pains get
darker and bolder due to gloomy super-producers Flood and Alan Moulder, the
cats behind Nine Inch Nails and Depeche Mode without losing sense of their
contagiousness. So that includes the big kick of Heart in Your Heartbreak” and
its easy nod to the Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Sedated” as well as the sultry biker
roar that makes “Girl of 1,000 Dreams” simple but thrilling. Kip
Berman isn’t relying in his Morrissey-like vocal tics and clichés to get by.
Atop Alex Naidus’ liquid bass and Peggy Wang’s off-kilter harmonies, Berman
makes a merry warbler while imparting his words of woe.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Heaven’s
Gonna Happen Now” “Strange” “Too Tough” A.D. AMOROSI

Bob Dylan – In Concert: Brandeis University 1963

January 01, 1970

(Columbia/Legacy)

 

www.columbiarecords.com

 

 

While libraries are filled with books about what’s been
gained from Dylan going electric, it’s worth taking a couple minutes – maybe
while listening to “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues” on Dylan’s just-released
In Concert: Brandeis University 1963 – to consider what today might be like had he not changed into the great
hipster rock poet/roots-Americana progenitor that he became in 1965. Had he
stayed the incisive, shrewdly literate, sometimes-outraged, sometimes-amused
protest singer he very much was during his two short sets at the multi-artist
Brandeis’ First Annual Folk Festival. Just as he humorously but thoroughly
deflates the right-wing extremism (and just-below-the-surface racism) of the
John Birch Society, a pressure group of the day, could he have done it today
for the similar Tea Party Republicans? Or, had he continued to write topical
songs like this, might he have had such cultural impact this way that right-wing extremists could never be able to achieve
the power they now have? We’d be without “Like a Rolling Stone,” but we might
also be without the likes of Paul Ryan and Scott Walker (and Fox News)  trying to undo a century’s worth of social
justice and political progress – and getting away with it.

 

Anyway, the music on this short album was recently
discovered, as a reel-to-reel tape, in the archives of Ralph Gleason, the
influential San Francisco
music writer and Rolling Stone co-founder who died in 1975. After his wife passed, their son, Toby, discovered
this while clearing the house. (One hopes he saved everything else, too.)
Columbia/Legacy last year allowed Amazon to give it away to people who
ordered  Bootleg Series Vol. 9 or The
Original Mono Recordings.
Now it’s being released properly, with liner
notes by Dylan authority Michael Gray, for just $8.98 list because of its
under-40-minute running time. That makes it a good buy.

 

Dylan, in fine voice and assured attitude with acoustic
guitar and harmonica, already was on the cusp of stardom. As Peter N. Kirstein
has pointed out on his blog, Dylan’s “John Birch” song was performed at
Brandeis on May 10th (a Friday, not a Saturday as the back-cover art
would have it), just two days before he was scheduled to do it on The Ed Sullivan Show. A CBS censor
stopped him in rehearsal; he walked off in protest and never got to be seen. So
he was honing this then-unreleased song, which pretty specifically calls out
Birchers as fascists and Nazi sympathizers, at Brandeis – a Jewish-founded,
secular liberal-arts school in Waltham, Mass. – before taking it to all America
on its most important weekly variety show. In retrospect, it seems at least as
gutsy a plan as going electric at Newport.

 

Other songs on the album include a partial version of
“Honey, Just Allow Me One More Chance,” “Ballad of Hollis Brown,” “Masters of
War,” “Talkin’ World War III Blues,” “Bob Dylan’s Dream,” and “Talking Bear Mountain
Blues.” Basically, the audience is spellbound – applause is especially
extensive after “Masters of War.” The students laugh during “Bear Mountain,”
which actually is a problem. Written in 1961, it was one of Dylan’s first
topical songs, according to the book Keys
to the Rain,
and shows he wasn’t yet master of the appropriate tone for his
songs. He’s unsure whether it should be serious or comic, and leans to the
latter. But it’s based on a 1961 incident in which panic broke out on an
overcrowded New York charter boat, resulting in injuries and not a funny
matter.

 

By the way, the two sets are divided by a break, at which a
host – speaking with a somewhat superior tone – asks the audience to move “in
front of the curtain” to improve sound in the gymnasium. Ah, college days!

 

DOWNLOAD: “Masters of War,” “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues” STEVEN ROSEN