Monthly Archives: June 2011

Mountains – Air Museum

January 01, 1970

(Thrill Jockey)


Brooklyn-based duo Mountains continue to take drone music to new peaks
of creativity on their second Thrill Jockey album, Air Museum.


On their 2009 debut Choral, Brendon Anderegg and Koen Holtkamp proved just how far
acoustic instruments can be transported beyond their natural state through the
ether of the latest advances in computer software, transforming everything from
bass, guitars and pianos to cellos, accordions and melodicas through
their homegrown digital filtration technique.


Air Museum,
meanwhile, finds the pair taking these same instruments but processing them
through an assortment of effects pedals, modular synthesizers and other assorted
acts of analog trickery, recording everything in real time with minimal
editing. This new approach has given Mountains a more rhythmic sense of
purpose, palpable in the context of “Thousand Square”, which comes across
like one big intro to a Company Flow song, as well as “Sequel” and “Backwards
Crossover”, both of which are akin to Vangelis if he followed Brian Eno’s
lead by signing to Warp.


However, by the end of the record, all is washed away in a
haze of amp-infused tone clusters that permeate the closing number “Live
at the Triple Door”, a mesmerizing edit of a live performance at 2009’s
Decibel Festival in Seattle that just envelops your senses as if you were
standing in the crowd watching them onstage from the comfort of your listening


The method by which Mountains blur the line between nature
and technology through their multi-textural sound system feels more enriching
than ever on this strange and beautiful journey through the electro-acoustic cosmos.


DOWNLOAD: “Thousand Square”,
“Sequel”, “Backwards Crossover”, “Live at the Triple





Eilen Jewell – Queen of the Minor Key

January 01, 1970

(Signature Sounds Recording Company)


It’s a little bit confusing for those who merely dabble in
the world of contemporary roots rock and alt-country to keep track, but there
are distinct differences between Eilen Jewell, Eleni Mandell, Eileen Rose, and
even Elana James of Hot Club of Cowtown. Guess none of these women had mothers
who wanted a child named Ellen.


At any rate, Jewell is the one whose first name rhymes with
“stealin’,” the one with a brand new album, and the one with the most
distinctively rootsy band at her side. Guitarist Jerry Miller is the perfect
foil for Jewell. Imagine Duane Eddy sneaking into the studio while Peggy Lee
was recording “Fever,” and surprising her with a rumbling, rollicking set of
licks, and you’ll be in the ballpark. Bassist Johnny Sciascia and drummer Jason
Beek can hold down the smooth slow grooves or pump up the faster
rockabilly-inspired rave-ups, too.


Jewell herself has a jazz singer’s phrasing, if not quite
the range. Make no mistake about her singing; she never hits a wrong note, and
she never sounds out of place.  She
crafts simple, insistent melodies out of the few notes at her disposal, and
then makes sure we understand the words are what’s important while the band
keeps our feet busy.


Bookended by a pair of instrumentals (well, “Kalimotxo,”
the closing cut, does include Jewell intoning the mysterious title now and
again), the album includes twelve songs of love and loss and comfort and
memory. This is the first time Jewell has recorded exclusively her own songs
after four previous albums of originals and covers, and last year’s tribute to
Loretta Lynn.


“I Remember You” sounds like something from one of Dylan’s
most recent albums, with its bluesy undertone and insistent rhythm, and lyrics
such as “We were Bonnie and Clyde / We thought
we’d go down in history / I guess we changed our minds.” The title track is a
speed-demon novelty number making sport of the sheer number of sad songs Jewell
tends to write. “Santa Fe” is one of the minor-key melancholic odes to which
she refers, an eloquent series of memories pulling further and further away
from reality; the song begins with awareness of her lost love’s faults and ends
with belief that she walked away from perfection.


If Jewell’s management has been on the ball, they would have
made sure by now to get a copy of “Warning Signs” to the producers of the HBO
series “True Blood,” for this is a perfect end-credits number for almost any
episode the show wants to use it. And it’s catchy as all git-out. Equally
TV-ready is “Bang Bang Bang,” a short and intoxicating look at the modern-day
take on the Cupid metaphor.


If Eilen Jewell is reminiscent of anyone, it’s Chris Isaak,
who has made a long career out of melancholy ballads and rockers sung with a
cry in his voice and a love for pop hooks. Jewell sings in her own way, and
prefers a simpler, more live sounding feel in the studio than Isaak’s big
production approach. But that only adds to her charms; there’s a real intimacy
about the simple way Jewell and her band play these songs. Queen of the Minor Key charms and beguiles with a minimum of
obvious effort and a maximum of obvious taste.


DOWNLOAD: “Warning
Signs,” “Bang Bang Bang,” “Reckless.” STEVE PICK

Various Artists – The (R)evolution Continues, Chicago Blues: A Living History

January 01, 1970



In 2009 Chicago Blues: A Living History was nominated
for a Grammy. The idea behind the two CD project was to take aging Chicago
blues artists who are old enough to have played behind the giants of the Golden
Era of the Chicago blues, like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, but never
achieved the fame or stature of their bosses and have them play songs from the
Golden Era, which ran roughly from the 1940’s to the 1970’s. The project stars
artists such as Billy Boy Arnold, John Primer, Billy Branch and Lurrie Bell.


Now comes a second 2 CD set from the same group plus
guitarist Carlos Johnson called The (R)evolution
Continues, Chicago
Blues: A Living History.
The second installment goes the further step of including
two internationally recognized legendary surviving Chicago bluesmen, Buddy Guy
and James Cotton, and a third – Magic Slim, who grew up in the American south
but like so many others of his generation found a career in the blues on the
West Side of Chicago.


First, the music on this CD is great, no doubt about it,
going from a Lonnie Johnson – the first great electric blues guitarist – n 1942
right up to the 1990’s in chronological order. All the songwriters you would
expect to find are here: Waters, Wolf, Tampa Red, John Lee “Sonny Boy”
Williams, Jimmy Rogers, Little Walter Jacobs, Magic Sam, Elmore James, Sunnyland


But then they do something interesting so this is not just a
greatest hit package. They link Chess Records – the label which gave birth to
the postwar Golden Era of Chicago Blues – to the birth of rock and roll. Who
remembers or knows that Chuck Berry first recorded for Chess? And on this set
we hear Berry’s
classic “Reelin’ and Rockin’ from
1958, with Primer on vocals. The revolutionary Elias McDaniel aka Bo Diddley
was another Chess alum from that era who gave rock a beat it never stopped
using. And we have on this CD Billy Branch on vocals and harp doing a mean
combination of Little Walter’s “Mellow Down Easy” from 1954 and “Bo Diddley”
from 1955. A bit of a stretch is including what is arguable the first rock
song, “Rocket 88” from 1951, written by Ike Turner as Jackie Brenston. This was
a Delta blues, not Chicago blues, recorded by
Sam Phillips at Sun in Memphis
but released nationally by Chess. My guess is the song was included to feature
Cotton’s harp, but they could have found another Chicago harp song.


Second, any CD that give a forum for Chicago blues players
like Arnold – who worked with Bo Diddley –  John Primer, Billy Branch, Lurrie Bell, the
incredible guitarist and son of Chicago Blues harp legend Carey Bell is
outstanding. These men were lucky enough to learn the blues from working with
the masters, but unlucky to come of age in an era when the blues was in one of
its periodic eclipses. By the 1980’s and 1990’s music had changed, the audience
had changed, the world changed and how the hell do you follow guys like Waters
and Wolf who were larger than life. So these hard working artists are showcased
perfectly on these two CDs.


But the two guest stars they brought in who are legitimate Chicago blues masters
steal the show. The second CD kicks off with Guy doing an incendiary version of
his 1960 hit “First Time I Met the Blues.” And on “Rocket 88” James Cotton
sounds as young and energetic as he did blowing harp on Muddy’s live album At Newport from 1960.


This is an excellent two CD set with a beautiful,
informative booklet. It is perfect for somebody coming to the Chicago blues for the first time. These songs
can be a gateway to explore a world of incredible music. And the project
certainly proves that in the hands of great players, the music will always be
alive. But whether the Chicago
blues can continue to evolve and grow after the generation of performers featured
on this CD passes is the real question that only time will answer. And I would
not get my hopes up on that one. So enjoy what is here while it is here.



Time I Met The Blues,” “Canary Blues,” “Stockyard Blues,” “Rocket 88” TOM CALLAHAN 


A History Lesson Part 1: Punk Rock In Los Angeles in 1984

January 01, 1970

(MVD, 57




In A History Lesson Part 1: Punk Rock In Los
Angeles in 1984
director Dave Travis concerns himself with psychedelic punk rock, not trad punk, as
the title implies. Not that the bands covered (Meat Puppets, the Minutemen,
Redd Kross, Twisted Roots), despite having clear punk qualities, ever
consistently adhered to one label.


As usual,
the discussion of punk is more about attitude than sound. In that sense, the
film says nothing new. The bands all say it was exciting and fun to be
different and not give a shit in 1984, and tell stories often told. It’s
mundane unless they happen to be a viewer’s pet band, which certainly is
possible, considering who we’re talking about. That’s where History Lesson partly
redeems itself: It contains three to five full-length live songs per band. The
A/V isn’t up to snuff, but it’s unreleased footage either way, and at least a
taste of LA psych-punk in 1984. Otherwise, just a grainy, low-budget fanzine
feature in pictures.


Paleo – Fruit of the Spirit

January 01, 1970






Freak-folk artist David
Strackany, aka Paleo, follows up last year’s splendid A View of the Sky album with this cooperative effort that falls a
tad short of that rather superlative release. More on that notion later. David
has settled into a brick and mortar life recently in Iowa City, Iowa, after
criss-crossing the country for a half dozen years living out of his car,
gigging and accepting folks’ generous offers of a couch to crash on. He’s had
songs used in films and even received a congratulatory note from then VP Dick “Face
blaster” Cheney (??) for his massive ’06 songwriting project, “The Song Diary,”
for which he wrote and recorded a song every day, 365 songs consecutively. He’s
now sharing The Blue House in Iowa City with some other artists, kindred souls
no doubt.



Where David played all the
instruments on Sky, this time out he
called up a baker’s dozen of buddies to back him up. His collaborators, mostly
Midwesterners, gathered in Davenport at the studio of veteran Daytrotter
engineer, Patrick Stolley, to knuckle down for three days of recording, with no
rehearsal or much sheet music to guide them. What could possibly go wrong? On
the plus side, they had an awesome studio of old-timey analogue recording
equipment at their disposal to experiment with, and many other assorted
instruments and bell and whistles to play with during the session. The one
slightly flawed element of Fruit of the
might be the seemingly rushed recording of the eleven songs. Perhaps
time was of the essence, but there’s a slight sense of the cake not being quite
baked. Maybe they were working on a very limited budget, or perhaps one-take
producing like Daytrotter and Black Cab Sessions does lead the principals into
a false sense of satisfaction with the quick takes. The end products are a bit
rough sounding and unpolished, leaving a lower-fidelity sound bordering on just
miking a live jam. While this may have been the actual intention, it does a
little injustice to the songs, which are solid, with no shortage of Strackany’s
insightful and brash lyrics.



“Lighthouse” gets the album off
to a peppy and festive start, with steel drums in the background, sounding a
bit like some misplaced Elliot Smith tune. An organ jumps in with the steel
drum on “Over the Hill and Back Again,” and an upbeat melody that conjures up
Guided By Voices. Part of the oddball and quirky charm of the music is his
wobbly vocals, sometimes struggling for the higher notes and bit off key. “Pharaoh”
slows things down to a cold molasses pace, a delicate and plaintive song with
mournful piano and brushed drums. It gathers you into its somber atmosphere
after a few listens. “Holly Would” is a strum-ful, happy clap-along that
lightens things back up again, and there’s also a toe-tapping cadence to “Buddy
Buddy.” “In the Movies” was a particular favorite, bringing older Pavement
songs to mind.



 One could do without the discordant cacophonic
clatter of “Poet (Take 1)” and “Poet (Take 2),” the latter being a dressing-down
of narcissistic people who imagine they are poets with “deep” and “heavy”
things to impart.  In their place,
rather, last fall’s Daytrotter takes, “Bird in a Cage” and “Mournful and Slow.”
It’s no contest after comparing the four, and it really would have topped off
the assembled songs with two more gems. If you’re willing to overlook the
slightly raw sound of Fruit, this is
a strong collection of more memorable tunes from the ever creative, fruitful
and spirited mind of Paleo.  


        DOWNLOAD: “In the
Movies,”  “Holly Would,” ” Over the Hill
and Back Again.”  BARRY ST. VITUS

Rainer With Joey Burns And John Convertino – Roll Back the Years

January 01, 1970



Speak with almost anyone from Tucson’s fertile music scene and eventually
the name Rainer Ptacek will come up. Despite his passing in 1997 at the age of
46 following a second bout with brain cancer, Rainer (talented enough to earn
the first-name-only sobriquet) still casts a long shadow over the music
community in Tucson and in some “musicians-musician”-circles far beyond its
desert  surroundings.


But nowhere was that shadow longer than in the Giant
Sand/Calexico universe. For Howe Gelb, Rainer was friend and mentor, a
guitarist and songwriter with an equally idiosyncratic blues-and-country rock
vision informed by the heat, sand and cactus of the local terrain. Together
they formed Giant Sandworms in the late ‘70s, which later morphed into Gelb’s
Giant Sand collective.


Coming piecemeal to Giant Sand but forming its best-known
lineup, drummer John Convertino and bassist Joey Burns – now the brain trust of
Calexico- joined Rainer in July and early August of 1997 at the Barrio Viejo
home of journalist, author and activist Bill Carter to record these deceptively
casual tracks. At the time of this recording, Rainer was in remission, having
survived the stroke-like collapse and memory slate-cleaning that announced the
brain cancer, the chemo and radiation, and the long hours spent relearning his
own music and retraining his mind to understand what his fingers wanted it to


Rainer would spend the time between his initial February,
1996 diagnosis and treatment, and the recurrence that eventually killed him in
November, 1997, putting down some of his most affecting music. In addition to
this summer date with Burns and Convertino, he recorded what many consider his
masterpiece, Live at the Performance
, a stunning solo gig on the eve of his last birthday (June 6) in
which every track seems a pathway to new guitar-genius territory. 


He also appeared on The
Inner Flame: The Rainer Ptacek Tribute
, the Gelb-curated disc to raise
funds for the insurance-less Rainer’s staggering medical bills. The respect his
peers had for Rainer is manifest in the lineup, which featured among its tracks
Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, P.J. Harvey, Vic Chesnutt, Jonathan Richman, Evan
Dando, Emmylou Harris and Madeleine Peyroux. Then, shortly before his death, Rainer
recorded The Farm (eventually
released in 2002), his final sessions before the disease forced him to put down
his beloved National Steel forever.


So, then, Roll Back
the Years
, a victim until now of timing and circumstance, released by
Rainer’s widow with the assistance of archivist David La Russa and audio wizard
Jim Blackwood ( Because
of the release of his live date, and later The
, these songs wound up on the shelf for 14 years.  (Three of the songs – “The Farm,” “Oasis,”
and “Hard to Remember” – would appear on The
, a hint that perhaps this one was meant to be permanently shelved.)
And while Roll Back the Years features Rainer and a combo, the
music is not to be confused with Rainer & Das Combo, Ptacek’s power-blues
outfit of the late ‘80s/early ‘90s (1993’s The
Texas Tapes
featured an uncredited but prominent collaborator: ZZ Top’s
Billy Gibbons).


Burns and Convertino had recorded with Rainer prior to this
date (a clutch of songs for 1995’s DYO
, for instance, and a version of Stevie Wonder’s “Pastime Paradise”
released posthumously on 2000’s Alpaca
), and they slipped right into their rock-solid sidemen roles here,
sometimes with first-take succinctness. With Rainer exclusively on dobro or his
National Steel resonator, Burns’ acoustic bass and Convertino’s brushed skins
nudge the pace where it needs to go and then get out of the way while the
bottleneck and finger-picking magic – a blend of Ry Cooder-blues and John
Fahey-folk-meets-Mississippi John Hurt-finger-picking prowess — takes place.


The songs range from chooglin’ blues-rock (“My Honey”),
boogie-woogie (“Now I Know Better”) and traditional acoustic blues fare
(“Tenish”) to the desert-baked shuffles (“Roll Back the Years”) and
instrumental explorations (“Di Latin”) familiar to the Giant Sand/Calexico
songbooks. Sung in Rainer’s Dylan-like nasal register, the songs nevertheless
convey a wide range of emotion. Of course the narratives carry the specter of
his diagnosis with them, but there is also urgency, appreciation and unbridled
joy coursing through them and his nonpareil playing – the tumult of life and
death, illness and remission, writ in blood and lived in visceral real-time.


Rainer encapsulates all of those conflicted feelings over
the jaunty beat of “Hard to Remember” when he sings, “Sometimes I can’t
remember/the reasons why we’re here at all/then it hits me, hits me like a big
jolt/comin’ straight into my brain/that the only reason why we’re here/is to
love away the pain.”


It’s a spine-chilling moment, one of many on a dusky gem
that reminds us what an underappreciated Rainer meant to fans, blues-guitar
geeks, fellow musicians, and friends – both as an extraordinary player and a
humble, kind friend and family man.


DOWNLOAD: “Oasis” “Di Lantin” “The Farm” – JOHN SCHACHT

Epitaph – Outside the Law

January 01, 1970



Outside the Law,
the second album from German hard rock troop Epitaph, has long appeared on
lists of great 70s rock obscurities, but has proven impossible to track down
for the curious (or, rather, the cheap, since original copies tend to fetch
high prices). Originally released in 1974, Outside
the Law
is in many ways fairly typical of its time period – longish hard
rock cuts that sounded heavy at the time but not so much now and a post-hippie
lyrical outlook somewhere between munificence and decadence. From a detached
point of view, it’s hard to hear what makes Epitaph any better than the
gazillion other ‘70s also-rans who never made it past the back pages of Goldmine.


But there’s definitely something special here. Maybe it’s
the band’s dedication to memorable melodies over aggressive riffage, or the
mellifluous vocals of bassist Bernd Kolbe and guitarist Cliff Jackson, or its
willingness to go beyond mere proto-metal into prog (“Fresh Air”), pretty
ballads (“In Your Eyes”) and even folk rock (“Big City,” the jangly bonus track
“Wasted So Much Time”). Or maybe it’s just the warm sound itself, where even
straightforward rockers like “Reflection,” “Woman” and the title track sound friendly
and inviting, rather than heavy and threatening. With strong bonus tracks, a
nicely embossed cover and cuts from a 2000 reunion show that prove the band
hadn’t lost a step over a quarter century, Outside
the Law
is a vintage rarity worth discovering.


DOWNLOAD: “Reflection,”
“Outside the Law,” “Big City” MICHAEL TOLAND

P.J. O’Connell – Join the Crowd

January 01, 1970



You can probably count on one paw the rock sidemen who’ve
also mounted credible careers as frontmen, but in the case of Pat (P.J.)
O’Connell, the gifted guitarist was serving up potent pop nuggets long before
he found himself recording and touring with NRBQ and the Incredible Casuals. Prior
to relocating from NC to Massachusetts his band the Flying Pigs was a mainstay
of the Triangle rock scene, and over the past couple of decades he’s released
two Pigs albums and three under his own name. Join The Crowd is the followup to 2006’s Careful, and ‘Q watchers will be chuffed to hear that pianist Terry
Adams and drummer Tom Ardolino are core players here, along with the likes of
Mike Gent (The Figgs), Joey Interlande, Marc Hickox, Ducky Carlisle (who
co-produces) and Chandler Travis.


Methinks he shouldn’t take so long between albums, because JTQ is stuffed to the gills with twangy
tuneage and jangly pop – the kind you just don’t find too often anymore in this
world of overprocessed beats, GarageBand sterility and Auto-Tuned pitchiness.


It kicks off with the raucous “Blindsided,” a caustic ditty
powered by slashing guitar chords and Adams’
pounding keys. Soon enough we’re knee-deep in the powerpop raveup of “Byrds”
and the harmony-strewn, Paul Westerberg-like (check O’Connell’s passionate
vocal rasp) “Join The Crowd,” and if one is inclined towards trainspotting one
can also detect the stray Rolling Stones influence (chunky riffer “Mesmerize”),
a touch of classic John Hiatt (“Birthday”) and definitely NRBQ (“World Of
Love”). In short, O’Connell’s musical touchstones are prominent, but never
dominant; his instinctive grasp of how to weave a lifetime’s worth of influences
into a brace of compelling, memorable original material is profound. Factor in
a warm analog vibe within which his regular-guy vocals swim invitingly, and Join The Crowd just may turn out to be
the feel-good hit of the summer.


DOWNLOAD: “Byrds,” “Birthday,” “World of Love” FRED MILLS

You Must Go and Win

January 01, 1970

(Faber & Faber)




Anyone who’s chatted with singer Alina Simone at her gigs won’t be
surprised by the strength of her first foray into the book world. Simone has the
gift of gab, and You Must Go and Win‘s
conversational tone captures her humor, vivacity and intelligence in an
engaging and honest look at an indie musician’s life. Part-memoir and
part-roadmap to the underground music world, the book has an added advantage in
that its subject’s life is not typical. Simone’s scientist parents escaped
Soviet blacklisting in the Ukraine
before emigrating with young Alina, a gift with a shadow that hangs over their comparatively
rudderless daughter. (Simone titled her second LP Placelessness.)


Written with clutter-free concision, Simone’s search for meaning reads
pithy and often laugh-out-loud funny. She navigates the signpost-free indie
circuit and a warren of flea-ridden apartments in the overpriced hipster’s
haven Brooklyn. She travels the U.S.
videoing her performance artist pal Amanda Palmer for a documentary that never
materializes, and survives car crashes, rampant machismo and
vegetarian-unfriendly Italian tours. 


But Simone’s story pivots on Mother Russia. She becomes obsessed with
the Siberia of her hero – and inspiration for her Russian language covers
record, Everyone is Crying Out to Me,
Beware –
folk punk icon Yana Dyagileva, and among other adventures winds up
baptized into the Eastern Orthodox church. She notes that the mongrel congregation
is really “no different from the passengers on a typical crosstown G train,” and
it’s epiphanies like that that lift this above the average musician memoir.

Wooden Birds – Two Matchsticks

January 01, 1970



After returning home to Austin
following a brief hiatus in Brooklyn (the
environs that gave birth to Magnolia , the Wooden Birds’ low-key debut), mainstay Andrew Kenny took a strong right
turn when it came time to conceive the group’s sophomore set. A major
progression from that initial outing, it’s considerably more expressive and far
less claustrophobic by comparison, as if Kenny suddenly felt liberated just by
being back home. True, it still retains the melodic folk pop approach that’s
characterized his efforts since his stint with the American Analog Set, an Austin outfit known
primarily for their atmospheric undertow. That’s not surprising, considering the
fact that Kenny’s acoustic guitar and affable outlook still dominate the
proceedings. Yet, even so, Kenny conceived the new album with a band in mind,
and the addition of drummer Sean Haskins, singer/guitarist Leslie Sisson and
guitarist Matt Pond (who operates under his own banner as Matt Pond PA)
elevates the Wooden Bird banner beyond its somnolent origins. Sisson takes lead
vocals for “Baby Jeans,” adding her own agreeable presence to the proceedings,
while the insistent pulse of “Folly Club,” the snappy “Too Pretty To Say
Please” and the last track, “Long Time To Lose It” — which echoes its title
with an irrepressible refrain – each allow the Wooden Birds to really take


Still, it’s not like that they’ve abandoned their mellow
musings entirely; “Company Time,” “Cross My Heart” and “Warm to the Blade”
drift along almost unobtrusively, cushioned by the band’s acoustic underbelly
and some airy atmospherics. And truth be told, nowhere on the album does Kenny
indicate he’s all that anxious to really let loose. Regardless, Two Matchsticks remains quietly
disarming, more charming than challenging and still sweetly sublime.


Jeans,” “Long Time To Lose It,” “Folly Club” LEE ZIMMERMAN