Monthly Archives: January 2012

Imperial Teen – Feel the Sound

January 01, 1970

(Merge)

 

www.mergerecords.com

 

With half a
dozen albums under their collective belts and an affinity for gay-friendly
sentiments, San Francisco’s
Imperial Teen offers a sound that borrows heavily from ‘80s-era pop and a
chirpy dance-driven affinity. That’s all too apparent on Feel The Sound, the quartet’s most embraceable effort to date.

 

While opening
track “Runaway” delivers minor chords and a relatively restrained vocal, it’s
buoyed by a thump and bounce that belies any downcast intent. The punchy “Last
To Know” boasts a rhythmic riff that could easily have intro’ed a classic Hall
and Oates hit, while similarly propulsive “Over His Head,” “Hanging About” and
“All the Same” help ensure that the merry mood remains intact. In fact, “It’s
You” sounds like it could have been plucked from the Go-Gos repertoire, given
its over the top ebullience and super sunny disposition. To cap the
proceedings, the foursome takes a slightly stoic stance on the closing cut
“Overtaken,” buoying it with a swelling refrain that elevates the song to
anthemic proportions. Regardless, analysis seems a moot point as far as
Imperial Teen is concerned. With Feel The
Sound
, it’s only the music that matters and the urge to enjoy it couldn’t
be more compelling.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Last To Know,” “Overtaken,” “It’s
You” LEE ZIMMERMAN

Buxton – Nothing Here Seems Strange

January 01, 1970

(New West)

 

www.newwestrecords.com

 

These five
yokels call Houston
home and have already self-released two records before this one. The 10 songs
here recall elements of the way past (The Band, Crazy Horse, Flying Burrito
Bros., etc.) to recent past (Beachwood Sparks, Scud Mountain Boys, etc.) and
the present (Dawes, Deer Tick, etc.). And if those first two records were just
a warm-up, well, on Nothing Here Seems
Strange
they’ve arrived.

 

The band has
really tightened up the songwriting and by cherry picking 10 of their best
tunes, the record is solid from start to finish. On the opening cut “Wolves and
Owls” you’re greeted by two things, a wildly plucked banjo and vocalist Sergio
Trevino’s high, yearning vocals.  The song
is a bit of a haunting number with Trevino repeating “I can’t believe what I am
seeing” before bursting out, while “Fingertips” is a 3 a.m. piano ballad when
it’s closing time and you don’t want to leave. 
“Blown A Fuse” grits out some shorted guitar lines before soaring into a
full-blown pop tune, then more of that barroom piano shows up on “Riverbed’
when Trevino asks, “Am I making any sense?” in another attempt explaining love to whomever’s willing to listen.
Later, on “Down in the Valley,” the band’s three guitarists are dueling for the
next opening slot in Crazy Horse. If you’re looking for a band that plays it
straight, well, head straight to Nashville
and leave your trucker cap at the door, but if you want a little cosmic coffee
with your eggs, well, look no further.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Wolves and Owls,” “Blown A Fuse,” “Boy
of Nine,” “Down in the Valley” TIM HINELY

Ruthie Foster – Let It Burn

January 01, 1970

(Blue Corn Music)

 

www.bluecornmusic.com

 

Known for album titles that attest to her authoritative
stance — The Truth According to Ruthie
Foster
, The Phenomenal Ruthie Foster and the like – Ruthie Foster stirs up a sound that affirms those assertions are
indeed well founded. Weaving a powerful blend of Blues, R&B, Gospel and
Folk finesse, Foster’s made a point of testing her parameters even as she
accords due diligence to each of those distinctive genres. So while she’s
christened her new effort with a handle that could be considered just as fiery,
she’s also taken a more reflective direction that emphasizes tenderness over
tenacity and subtlety above sizzle.

 

Made up mainly of classic covers, she scopes out a wide
array of references, from well-worn standards like “You Don’t Miss Your Water”
(sung side-by-side with its original composer, soul legend William Bell) to
contemporary classics such as “Long Time Gone” by Crosby Stills Nash &
Young, the Band’s “It Makes No Difference” and “Don’t Want To Know” from the
late British singer/songwriter John Martyn. Some of the songs receive utterly
unexpected treatments – the roughshod take on “If I Had a Hammer” and the
mellow musings she gives “Ring of Fire,” sound drastically different than the
originals – but all find a common thread in Foster’s soulful expression.
Participation by the Blind Boys of Alabama on no fewer than four of the 13
tracks also speaks to her humble underpinnings, particularly the two songs that
sandwich the set — the sublime and serene “Welcome Home” and the reverential
acapella hymn “Titanic,” which concludes, appropriately enough, with a distant
rumble of thunder. It might be considered a Divine nod to an album that’s
already fully engulfed in grace.

 

DOWNLOAD: “You
Don’t Miss Your Water,” “Don’t Want to Know,” “It Makes No Difference” LEE
ZIMMERMAN

Red Wanting Blue – From the Vanishing Point

January 01, 1970

(Fanatic)

 

www.fanaticrecords.com

 

Slowly but surely, Red Wanting Blue’s
star has been rising. Hey, wider exposure’s only been 17 years in the making.
The title of the band’s latest release speaks to eons of hours spent aboard
tour vans leading in and out of the group’s Columbus, Ohio, base – which, while
a few states Northeast of the U.S. mainland’s geographical center, presents as
pretty darned heartland-ish. With a passionate balance struck somewhere between
Grunge, Folk-Rock, and Arena excitement, 
Red Wanting Blue might just be one of several essentially
quintessential, contemporary U.S. units.

 

Even if the more minimalist stomp and
sizzle of Garage Rock’s been gaining a well-deserved hold on America’s beer and ticket dollars,
it seems safe to estimate that even more Americans facilitate gridlock, pound
along treadmills, and endure long lines for something else. That something else
might be described as the working-man-makes-it-(for all of us)-through-music
story. If that story’s delivered with grit and sincerity; if resonant hooks
pepper the songs, and the songs are delivered with commitment, Americans can
shed some of their depression over unemployment, environmental deterioration,
necessary-evil transience (or feeling utterly stuck), and alienation. 

 

On “Love Remains,” Scott Terry sings, “Don’t
give up/You can keep up, keep on moving/Chasing the sound of the sun somewhere
going down,” and “Don’t give up/Holding on for life/My love remains/Our love
remains.”  The pumping fists and
harmoniously bobbing bodies at a typical RWB show testify to the response the
band’s fans have to its generally uplifting messages. Which might not be the
case if the band glossed over the pain beneath and around the sunshine. “Hope
on a Rope” indicates fatigue; acceptance,
and possible defeat: “Compass is broke, it gives me no direction/It reads like
a riddle, gotta see through the smoke/‘Stay the course’ folks would always say/From
port to port but they never know the way/Deliver me, Lord some kind of answer/This
dream’s a cancer and I can’t paddle no more.”

 

To these ears, From the Vanishing Point is a stronger set of songs than that on
RWB’s last release, These Magnificent
Miles
. Regardless of the band’s current status – apparently poised on, or
in the midst of,  what’s known as a
“breakout” (to greater success and exposure) – tracks such as “Stay on the
Bright Side” are successes in themselves; revealing how a band’s creativity and
expressiveness can be fueled by exhaustive hours on the road, in sleeping bags,
and onstage. With the right material in hand, Terry’s in his intensely sweet
spot; combining the emotive colorings of Richie Havens and Joe Cocker with ragged
denouements. When the tune falls repeatedly into the bittersweet buoyancy
heralded by this refrain, there’s an instant classic: “The deeper the doubt,
the harder it rains/What we have in common is we don’t want our colors to fade
/It’s lights out for us all some day/But stay on the bright side of things,
okay.”

 

“Stay on the Bright Side” is one helluva
cup of spirit. Good thing the band’s performing it – the napkin-scrawl lyrics
printed on the poster-sized CD insert are, at least to these eyes, mostly
illegible.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Stay on the Bright Side,” “Love
Remains,” “White Snow,” “Playlist,” “Walking Shoes,” “Pour It Out” MARY LEARY

 

 

Various Artists – Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International

January 01, 1970

(Amnesty International)

 

http://music.amnestyusa.org

 

With around 75 (exact number depends on format)
new recordings available as a digital download ($19.99) or on four CDs
($24.99), this collection of Bob Dylan songs offers good value for an excellent
cause. Proceeds go to Amnesty International, the non-ideological human rights
organization that has sought to free prisoners of conscience around the globe
since 1961, the same year Dylan began performing in folk clubs in New York.

 

The really picky listener could buy tracks
individually at $1.29 each. But at about 27 cents a track for the whole
download package, you can’t go wrong even though the quality of the
performances varies as widely as one might expect from an endeavor that
includes both 19-year-old Miley Cyrus and 92-year-old Pete Seeger. And you
don’t need to be a card-carrying contrarian to prefer, as I do, Cyrus’ modestly
rendered “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” to Seeger’s
“Forever Young,” which is more about song preference than, you know,
artistic stature.

 

But, of course, it is the vast range and quality
of Dylan’s songs that create a level playing field for such disparate artists.
Since executive producers Jeff Ayeroff and Julie Yannatta – who also helped
engender the 2007 benefit album of John Lennon songs, Instant Karma: The Amnesty International Campaign to Save Darfur
are steeped in the mainstream, major label music business, so that is the heart
of the talent pool here. Classic rock veterans include Pete Townshend
(traditional folk arrangement of “Corrina, Corrina”), Jackson Browne
(perfectly adequate rendition of “Love Minus Zero/No Limit”) and
Sting, whose formal enunciating lends more emotional coldness to “Girl of
the North Country” than the song needs.

 

A highlight reel, or selected “A”
list, would include “Seven Curses” by Joan Baez, Dylan’s most
eloquent folk interpreter for almost as long as Bob’s been writing, and Patti
Smith, who so deftly inhabits the spiritual territory of “Drifter’s
Escape” that one craves an entire album of Smith/Dylan covers, or a
concert version of the “John Wesley Harding” album. Thea Gilmore did release
a version of “JWH” last year, songs in reverse, for some reason; her
contribution to this project, “I’ll Remember You,” doesn’t do much to
elevate one of Dylan’s least memorable songs.

 

A few artists do lift some of Dylan’s odder
compositions, though none is definitive as Lou Reed’s insanely fearless version
of “Foot of Pride” was on the Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary Concert.
(One performance that is definitive is the brilliant opener, “One Too Many
Mornings,” by Johnny Cash with the Avett Brothers.) The Carolina Chocolate
Drops round out the edges of “Political World,” and Fistful of Mercy,
a kind of second generation Wilburys (Dhani Harrison, Ben Harper and Joseph
Arthur), breathe zesty life into “Bucket of Rain.” Charlie Winston’s
lean but passionate take on “This Wheel’s On Fire” had me promising
to dig deeper into his catalog. (Winston’s, not Dylan’s). Ditto for the Belle
Brigade, who do a spectacular eight minute version of “No Time to
Think,” and the Gaslight Anthem performs “Changing of the Guard”
with the vengeance missing from Dylan’s original. The latter two performances
verify my belief in the underrated Street-Legal as Dylan’s most poorly arranged album of songs that deserved much better. I
also wanted to find out more about Ed Roland and the Sweet Tea Project (Roland
is late of ‘90s alt-rock hitmakers Collective Soul) thanks to their nuanced
version of “Shelter from the Storm.” And one develops new respect for
Mick Hucknall, of Simply Red fame, whose “One of Us Must Know (Sooner or
Later)” is one of the album’s peerless performances.

 

Other veteran Dylan covers sometimes work,
sometimes don’t. Kris Kristofferson take on “Quinn the Eskimo (The Mighty
Quinn)” is slow, somber, and very wry; Bryan Ferry’s torchy, orchestrated
version of the early folk song “Bob Dylan’s Dream” is terrible.

 

Younger performers, whose music grew far from
the folk/blues roots of Dylan and his first (and second) generation of
interpreters, don’t fare as well. Michael Franti’s ego gets in the way of
“Subterranean Homesick Blues”; one would have liked to hear a
well-established hip-hop artist, like Snoop Dogg or Eminem on this rap
precursor. So while Eric Burdon gets the gospel blues of “Gotta Serve
Somebody” just right, one can’t say the same for Band of Skulls (“It
Ain’t Me Babe”), Cage the Elephant (“The Lonesome Death of Hattie
Carroll”), Bad Religion (“It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”) or
Silversun Pickups (“Not Dark Yet”). 
Also weak: Sinead O’Connor’s “Property of Jesus,” My Morning
Jacket’s “You’re A Big Girl Now,” or Rise Against’s “Ballad of
Hollis Brown.” The Airborne Toxic Event’s “Boots of Spanish
Leather” makes one wonder why, and Ke$ha’s version of “Don’t Think
Twice, It’s All Right” is an embarrassment for the artist, who sounds like
she is weeping into the microphone; this should have been left on the floor in
the cutting room. Perhaps that’s why the only duplicate on the album is Kronos
Quartet’s version of “Don’t Think Twice” immediately following
Ke$ha’s audible breakdown.

 

There’s plenty more good and bad. The great
middle is occupied by tracks such as Jack’s Mannequin’s “Mr. Tambourine
Man.” What’s best about this version is that it got my teenage daughter, a
Jack fan, interested in Dylan. And that, like the bargain price of this benefit
collection, is a win-win. 

 

DOWNLOAD: Among those not mentioned: Queens of the Stone
Age, “Outlaw Blues”; RedOne: “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”;
Flogging Molly, “The Times They Are A Changin'” WAYNE ROBINS

Chronology; Ride Rise Roar

January 01, 1970

(Eagle Rock)

 

www.eagle-rock.com

 

BY A.D. AMOROSI

 

Audiences today who never
witnessed Talking Heads at their full force might miss the nuances yet there a
huge differences between the David Byrne of today and the band he helped form
despite the fact that Ride Rise Roar looks mostly at the Byrne/Eno/Heads period that made them infamous.

 

The Everything That Will Happen Will Happen Today tour of 2008/2009
(that album was a Byrne/Eno collaboration) was a spare, bright white
re-enactment of the then-new recording along with their finest moments recorded
before the 21st Century’s turn.
Ride Rise Roar
captures the
movement focused spectacular as if looking at a Merce Cunningham modern dance
production rather than a concert. It’s not as if the Head-y music is secondary;
it simply seems airier in this video re-production. The dense funk of T-Heads
classics such as “Once in a Lifetime, “I Zimbra” and the oozing “Houses in
Motion” come across as lighter and silken than in their original form. That’s
fine. But it’s in no way a replacement for the spine-curving art-meddling murk
of the Heads at their peak.

 

In its deluxe version (with a
48-page hard-cover book with photographs and an essay by Lester Bangs) Chronology is the very best testament to
pre-‘80s Byrne, Harrison, Frantz and Weymouth with nods to the days of CBGB and
The Kitchen (grainy live clips of the squeaky twitching “With Our Love,” “I’m
Not In Love” and “Psycho Killer” from 1975), their hits, their finale and even
the uncomfortable reunion performance of “Life During Wartime” when Talking
Heads was inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall Of Fame in 2002.

 

If you’re looking for something
glossy, don’t bother. There’s found footage from an old fan (in a dressing
room?) for the swiftly eerie “Found A Job” and its initial large-band forays
into Caucasoid funk with “Crosseyed and Painless.”  While bonus episodes feature a 35-minute 1979
British South Bank Show doc and a lengthy Byrne interview from 1978, the find
really is the rough sound and raw vision of the entire package. Makes you want
for more. That’s a good sign.

 

Trailer Trash Tracys – Ester

January 01, 1970

(Domino)

 

 http://www.dominorecordco.us/

 

Not sure who (or what) the Ester of this title is, but if
this British act has dedicated their fine debut to her (or it), a “thank you” note
is in order. This holds as well for music fans who like one foot in the
experimental world and another in familiar song territory. First, though: As
band-names go, you won’t find a better curveball. [Or, for that matter, a less appealing monicker.  – Tastemaker Ed.] There’s nothing remotely “alt” or “country” or “twangy” here, but
instead a deliciously disorienting thicket of experimental synths and distorted
beats with familiar classic pop melodies serving like breadcrumb-trails through
the fantastical processed forest.

 

Led by the sensuous late-night vocals of Suzanne Aztoria, a
host of contemporaries come to mind with the TTTs, from Blonde Redhead and Warpaint
to School of Seven Bells and Holly Miranda. But the band’s real progenitors
span eras, from the Jesus & Mary Chain’s bubble gum-and-heroin noir and Cocteau
Twins’ hazy textures to Kiernan Hebden’s chop shop and the Dum Dum Girls’ girl
group-meets-the-Ramones’ echoes.

 

The huge three-note figure that kicks off “You Wish You Were
Red” sounds like it was recorded in the Chunnel, and it slowly surges forward decorated
with chime-like glissandos and processed beats as though everything were moving
in slow motion. “Candy Girl” even reads like homage to J&MC; with its wet
snare metronome, echo-chamber bass and note-bending guitar riff, it could’ve
been a hidden-track on Candy.

 

This is no tribute LP, though, and there’s much more going
on here. The calliope keys in “Dies in 55” rain down like the afterglow of
fading fireworks, punctuated by processed press rolls firing off in the
background and Aztoria’s star-burst vocals. What seems like an Eddie Van Halen
show-off riff (the “solfeggio harmonics” the band employs) opens “Engelheart’s
Arizona” until it morphs into the melody and a digitally altered loop that
twists and smears all over the prominent bass and snare-shuffle through the
whole song; “Strangling Good Guys” builds similarly on a big baritone riff
enmeshed in a multi-note guitar loop, but it breaks off into syncopated barre
chords and winds up in Spector-ish girl group territory instead.

 

This is more adventurous fare but never forgoes its footing
in melody land – well, with the exception
of the off-putting “Rolling,” a short track that unfortunately opens the record
and sounds like a symphony warm-up with six instruments headed in different
directions. All those interesting elements though coalesce on stand-out track
“Starlatine,” where the synth notes pop like fizzy champagne bubbles amidst
distorted beats and bass, Aztoria sounding like Julie Cruise in multi-tracked harmonies
that float over like the oil sheen on a rain puddle. By the time we reach LP
closer “Turkish Heights,” where a whiff of Oriental
exotica manifests in fuzzy bass, vocal echoes and an opiated tempo where the
snare beats are altered to sound like radio static, we’ve been on a memorably
strange trip without having left behind the familiar comforting melodies of
home.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Startaline,” “Turkish
Heights,” “Candy” BY JOHN
SCHACHT

Fighting My Way Back: Thin Lizzy 69-76

January 01, 1970

(Power
Chord Press)

 

www.martinpopoff.com

 

BY REV.
KEITH A. GORDON

 

Canadian
music journalist Martin Popoff has been writing about hard rock and heavy metal
music for almost as long as the Reverend has been listening to the stuff, which
is to say a long, loooong time. Popoff shows a commitment to the genre that’s
impressive even to a confirmed lifer such as yours truly, co-founding the
respected metal magazine Brave Words
& Bloody Knuckles
in 1994 and penning nearly 8,000 album reviews, most
of which have been compiled into four volumes of Popoff’s The Collectors Guide to Heavy Metal series of books.

 

Often
overlooked are Popoff’s contributions in documenting rock ‘n’ roll history,
which he has achieved with the five books in his Ye Olde Metal series as well as around two-dozen band biographies
covering everybody from Black Sabbath and Deep Purple to Rush and Blue Oyster
Cult, among others. Admittedly, few of these tomes published by Popoff’s Power
Chord Press sell on the level of, say, some sordid celebrity sleaze tell-all or
that new Steve Jobs bio that lucked its way onto the top of the best-seller
list when, by happenstance and circumstance, the author benefited from the
Apple CEO’s untimely death. No, Popoff writes these things ’cause he wants to, not because he thinks he’s going
to find a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. 

 

Popoff’s
latest labor of love is his in-depth
biography of classic rock titans Thin Lizzy, titled Fighting My Way Back: Thin Lizzy 69-76 (Power Chord Press; www.martinpopoff.com). The first of a
pair of books covering every aspect of the band’s too-brief, albeit influential
lifespan, it has been compiled from numerous interviews Popoff conducted with
former Lizzy guitarists Scott Gorham, Eric Bell, Gary Moore, and Brian
Robertson, as well as drummer and original member Brian Downey. Interviews with
associates like artist Jim Fitzpatrick, who created a number of the band’s
memorable album covers, or Brendan “Brush” Shiels, who played with Lizzy’s
Phil Lynott in the band Skid Row, bring additional perspective to the band’s
history. Since he never had the opportunity to speak with Lynott, the late,
great creative force behind Thin Lizzy, here Popoff draws upon
previously-published articles and interviews to flesh out the story…

 

And what a
story it is, a trio of young Irish lads making a name for themselves
(originally as “Tin Lizzy”) in the band’s hometown of Dublin, the
band formed by Lynott and Downey with guitarist Eric Bell and keyboardist Erix
Wrixon, who would leave after recording the band’s first single. Actually,
Popoff delves deeper than that, coaxing memories from Brush Shiels about
Lynott’s time in Skid Row with him and guitarist Gary Moore, setting the stage
and defining the important relationships that would be threaded throughout
Lizzy’s timeline. The band’s signing with Decca Records, its re-location to
London, the recording of their self-titled 1971 debut album, and Lizzy’s
subsequent struggles, both artistically and commercially, are all covered in depth.

 

Popoff
follows the band through the making of its sophomore effort, 1972’s Shades of a Blue Orphanage and even
delves into the story behind the long-lost album of Deep Purple cover songs
recorded by Lynott and crew for quick cash that year. He outlines the band’s
reaction to their unexpected hit single “Whiskey In The Jar” and the
subsequent fall-out when their third album, 1973’s Vagabonds of the Western World failed to chart, or even produce a
minor hit. When Bell left the band in 1973, to be temporarily replaced by Gary
Moore, Lynott chose to reboot the band’s sound with the addition of twin lead
guitarists. After a failed experiment with guitarists Andy Gee and former
Atomic Rooster member John Cann, what is now known as the classic Thin Lizzy
line-up formed with guitarists Brian Robertson and Scott Gorham joining Lynott
and Downey.

 

A new
label deal with Phonogram was nearly scuttled by the lackluster performance of
Lizzy’s first albums for the label, 1974’s Nightlife and the following year’s Fighting failing to produce much in the way of sales, although the latter album’s
development of the twin-guitar sound would set the stage for Thin Lizzy’s
breakthrough album, 1976’s Jailbreak and the monster hit “The Boys Are Back In Town.” Success breeds its
own problems, and Popoff’s chapter
on the album looks deep inside the band’s ups-and-downs in the wake of their
sudden worldwide fame. It’s here that Popoff ends the first part of the story,
setting up the reader for the forthcoming second book.

 

While Popoff’s
engaging manner of storytelling should appeal to both Thin Lizzy fanatics as
well as classic rock fans, Fighting My
Way Back
is also profusely illustrated with B&W artwork, from band
photos and miscellaneous memorabilia to album covers, photos of rare singles,
gig flyers, and much more. The resulting effort provides a solid literary and
visual document of the band’s early career, as important a slice of rock ‘n’
roll history as exists and a tale well-told by Popoff.

 

Stew & the Negro Problem – Making It

January 01, 1970

(TNP)

 

www.negroproblem.com

 

When last we heard from Stew, erstwhile leader of
underground indie pop darlings The Negro Problem, he was busy conquering
Broadway with his metafictional musical Passing
Strange
. Several awards (including a Tony for Best Book of a Musical) and
one Spike Lee-directed film later, it seemed the long-struggling songwriter had
finally found his niche in the popular consciousness, along with success his
fans justifiably felt was long deserved.

 

As brilliant as Passing
Strange
is, it seemed to close the book on any further records with Stew’s
much-missed band. Not so, as it happens – he and his stalwart musical partner
Heidi Rodewald merely folded TNP into their current endeavors. Originally
commissioned as a song cycle by St.
Ann’s Warehouse, Making
It
picks up where Passing Strange left off – not so much literally, as it doesn’t continue the first musical’s
story, but metaphorically, as it surveys the changes in Stew’s life following
artistic and financial success. That includes the damage done – the romantic
relationship between Stew and Rodewald disintegrated as their professional one thrived,
a situation chronicled with genteel bitterness in “Love is a Cult” (sung, in a
smart twist, by Rodewald herself) and the duet “Leave Believe.” “Love is a great
gig/But the pay is crap” indeed. Meanwhile, “Speed” laments both the use and
loss of its title drug (an ambivalence toward drugs Stew has explored before),
while “Therapy Only Works If You Tell the Truth” rolls its eyes at its
narrator’s emotional reticence. “Treat Right,” “Suzy Wong” and “Pretend” take
on the creative process itself, connecting Making
It
thematically and more explicitly to its predecessor.

 

Musically Stew and Rodewald hit a new peak, deftly mixing
the psychedelic pop that’s TNP’s usual stock-in-trade with the musical
sophistication acquired from writing for Broadway. Lush melodies slow-dance
with quirky textures and vice versa, each musical universe merging with the
other. Stew’s lyrics likewise combine the streamlined approach of stage lyrics
with his love of wordplay; the latter gets the better of him occasionally (cf.
“Black Men Ski”), but otherwise this is his most trenchant storytelling yet. That’s
indicative of Making It as a whole,
frankly, as Stew and the Negro Problem apply every lesson learned in a lifetime
of art and music to a record that feels like coming home after a long, fulfilling
journey.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Love
is a Cult,” “Leave Believe,” “Pretend” MICHAEL TOLAND

Carlos Paredes – Guitarra Portuguesa; Movimento Perpétuo

January 01, 1970

(Drag City)

 

www.dragcity.com

 

Carlos Paredes was a master of the Coimbrian guitar, a shortened,
rounded version of the instrument, strung with six sets of double wire that was
developed partly by his father, Arthur Paredes, also a famous guitarist. Born
in 1925, Paredes lived and played through one of Portugal’s most tumultuous periods,
and was jailed as a communist in 1958. While imprisoned and instrument-less, he
continued to write and develop his technique, incessantly playing an imaginary
guitar so that the guards thought he had lost his mind. His music, which
combined the rigor of classical styles with the emotionally expressive
traditions of fado, became a touchstone for the new Portugal. In 1974, when revolution
toppled the country’s dictatorship, Paredes’ music could be heard at all hours
on the radio and in the shops and cafes.

 

Paredes’ two best-known albums — Guitarra
Portuguesa
from 1968 and Movimento
Perp
étuo from 1971 – are works of astonishing skill and
emotional depth, melodic
sophistication and bravura technical accomplishment.  Never available in the United States, they have been out of print even
in Portugal
since 1989.  Drag City,
most likely influenced by Ben Chasny, who dedicated 2005’s School of the Flower to the guitarist, has reissued both early
Paredes albums, with original artwork and Portuguese liner notes (and an
English translation).

 

Guitarra Portuguesa was
Paredes’ first full-length recording, the album that established him in 1968 as
one of Portugal’s
leading fado players. Here, playing solo guitar, he executes dizzyingly complex
melodies, accompanying the rapid-fire picking with strummed chords. The sound
of the guitar is striking. It resonates like all 12-strings do, as the extra
strings pick up and transmit an additional set of overtones. Yet the tone is
harder, more metallic and more variable than say, the 12-string hear Robbie
Basho playing. Its notes, especially the sustained ones, take an instant to
resolve themselves, shuddering mirage-like around the intended tone until they
come clear. At times, there’s an almost surf-like bend and tremolo to the
notes, a cloud of dissonance and resonance around the melodies. Yet even so,
Paredes plays with beautiful clarity and speed, plucking dizzying runs of 16th-notes,
each one separate, each one perfect. For “Dança” his fingers move with unbelievable speed and sureness,
picking out themes and counterparts so complex that it seems impossible that
one person could play them.  And skill is
only part of the package. From sprightly “Fantasia” to the melancholy and
lovely “Canção Verdes Anos” (Paredes’ first film soundtrack), extraordinary
playing never overshadows the strong emotional content of the songs.

 

Movimento Perpétuo came three years later, showcasing, if anything, even sharper skills. The
opening, title track dances fearlessly, at blur-speeds, over a melody of such
lightness and delicacy that visible effort, let alone error, would sink it. When
Paredes finishes, less than a minute and a half after the start, you realize
that you can breathe again in relief. Paredes had also, over the three years
since Guitarra moved further beyond
the boundaries of traditional fado. His “Variações Sob Uma Dança
Popular” may start with folk simplicity, but it evolves into the intricacy of a
Bach cantata and sounds like three or four guitars, rather than one. Late in
the album, a flute emerges to ornament two versions of “Mudar De Vida”. It’s
pretty in a 1960s-folk way but gilds the lily.

This is lovely music, masterfully played and exotic even to habitual
acoustic guitar fans because of the unusual instrument and fado influences. Before
he died in 2004, Paredes asked, like his father before him, to have his guitar
broken and buried with him when he passed away. The music, too, could easily
have been buried. Drag
City has done us all a
favor by reissuing it.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Canção Verdes
Anos,” “Movimento Perpétuo” JENNIFER KELLY