Monthly Archives: February 2012

Drew Nelson – Tilt a Whirl

January 01, 1970

(Red House)


Well-trodden song structures and standard arrangements could
be seen as templates. When they’re combined without a certain spark; lacking a
sense of the creative space they can enable, these tools can be effective (per
engaging an audience that wants something familiar and comfortable, with no
unwanted surprises). But when these elements are taken from the toolbox to help
a musician enlarge his voice, with a sense that the work could go anywhere
(within those familiar confines); lightning may streak across the sky. Drew
Nelson’s music tends to fall somewhere between these two approaches. The Navy
vet and Michigan
native offers certifiably “American” sounds. In other words, the more upbeat
numbers, such as the four-to-the-floor opener, “Promised Land,” and the chunky,
crystalline (an admirable combination) shamble of “Dust,” would make him a
natural opener for Tom Petty and/or Bruce Springsteen (as it happens, Nelson’s
dusted stages off for Melissa Etheridge and John Gorka, among others).


While Tilt a Whirl isn’t quite the heady spin suggested by its title, the album’s a solid set of
Folk/Country-based compositions. “Ferris Wheel” might be a more fitting moniker
— Nelson’s just as comfortable with the ambling, steady trot of storytelling
as he is at a full gallop. Sure, stories are great. Goodness knows that,
without the Folk and Blues genres, their transmission might be a lost art. But
Nelson has some roar in him, which pops up on the harder-hitting tapestry of
“Copper.” It’s sad, lovely, and rocking in a way that recalls Neil Young with
Crazy Horse, while sounding nothing like them.


The ensemble gathered for Tilt a Whirl is in the groove. Drew Howard’s pedal steel solos are
sweet and compact as fresh candy apples. Mark R. Schrock’s mandolin work injects
taffy-pull warmth and rich, amber color. Jen Sygit’s vocals add softly gritty
harmonies. And, even though it’s practically a given on labels like Red House,
these days, the production deserves mention. Working from Mackinaw Harvest
Studios, Michael Crittenden has made a poet’s job of this material (along with
contributing piano, guitar, B-3 organ, and Wurlitzer notes). Which is fitting
for an album with lyrics such as “She likes dragonflies and shootin’-star
wishes” (“My Girl”). When the artist writes these words from Michigan, I believe them. I have a friend
who left the Northeast corner of that state about six years ago. He was eager
to trade shooting star sightings for a more urban environment. Me, I can’t see
too many shooting stars, or stories about them.


DOWNLOAD: “Promised Land,” “Copper,” “Hallelujah Morning,” “Dust,” “Lessons” MARY LEARY

I See Hawks in L.A. – New Kind of Lonely

January 01, 1970

(Western Seeds)


You might think
this trio hailed from a locale such as Amarillo,
TX or Nashville,
TN. Well, if you thought Bakersfield, CA you’d be
close as these three joined forces in an Echo
living room over a decade ago. 
Apparently longtime fans who cherish the band’s acoustic gigs can now
rejoice as New Kind of Lonely is an all-acoustic record with 13 slices of
genuine Americana straight from the heart.
Guitarist Rob Waller handles the lead vocals, but the other two musketeers,
guitarist/dobro player Paul Lacques and bassist Paul Marshall harmonizes the
dickens out of these songs (on this record the band adds a drummer as well as
banjo, fiddle and accordion players).


The songs
themselves create some magical imagery but heck, just listen to these songs
titles:  ” I Fell in Love with the
Grateful Dead”,  “Big Old Hypodermic
Needle”, “Bohemian Highway”, “Hunger Mountain Breakdown” and “Your Love is
Going to Kill Me.” If you think the band is like an antithesis of 70’s AOR
drifters America (“Sister Golden Hair”) well, you may be right, just trade
“Ventura Highway” in for one “Bohemian Highway’ and you’re all set. Sound fair?


They take their
music seriously, but with a real looseness create a warmth (with no lack of
humor) that a lot of alt country bands seem to lack.


DOWNLOAD:  “Bohemian Highway”, “I Fell in Love with the Grateful
Dead”, “Mary Austin Sky”, “Big Old Hypodermic Needle” TIM HINELY


Amelia White – Beautiful and Wild

January 01, 1970



The problem with the fact that there are so damn
many proficient singer/songwriters of both genders these days is that, well,
maybe there’s too damn many. Sure, having too much of a good thing wouldn’t
strike most people as anything to complain about, but when it crowds the
playing field to the extent that it’s hard to tell one artist from another,
then the up-and-comers are bound to suffer in the process. Take Amelia White
for example; five albums on, she’s still struggling to break out of a pack of
also-rans ultimately overshadowed by Emmylou Harris, Lucinda Williams, Patty Griffin and the other
voices that epitomize Nashville/Austin’s alt-country landscape.


That’s unfortunate, because singled out on its
own, Beautiful and Wild is an
admirable effort dominated by a nonchalant attitude and a soulful sway.
Inspired by the untimely passing of guitarist Duane Jarvis, one of White’s
musical mentors, it boasts a beguiling ballad like “Sidewalks,” which ruminates
about losing a loved one, and songs
such as “Saint Christopher” and “Madeline,” which lament the fallout from a
failed relationship. Producer Marco Giovino, best known up until now as the drummer
in Robert Plant’s Band of Joy, keeps a consistent tone, a dreamy haze broken
only by the uncommonly determined “Saint Christopher” and the sassy spunk of
“Molten Fire.” Yet having taken the baton from Nielson Hubbard — a musician
who frequently dabbles in more surreal environs — Giovino still manages to provide
a more upbeat assessment.  Still, the
fact that the stand-out of this set is a sultry cover of Bryan Ferry’s “More
Than This” makes it clear that White still needs a distinctive imprint of her


DOWNLOAD: “Sidewalks,” “More Than This,” “Madeline” LEE ZIMMERMAN

Robert Glasper Experiment – Black Radio

January 01, 1970



In “Aw
Yeah,” the first single from Black Radio, Robert Glasper’s jazz piano licks compete for space
with the vocals of Musiq Soulchild and Chrisette Michele, like they’re trying
to find some room to stretch out. At 4:15, the vocalists step back from the
Rhodes-driven groove and Glasper’s acoustic keys have the spotlight. The
problem is, the song ends 45 seconds later with a fade and it doesn’t leave
much time for a full solo. One track earlier, Glasper lays down some rapid runs
across the keyboard, but they also come in the final seconds of “Move Love”‘s


To be
fair, Black Radio isn’t trying to be
a jazz album where the musicians get to blow proper solos. This is Glasper’s
full blown attempt to merge his
chops with his hip-hop influences. The late producer J Dilla was an inspiration
as well as a collaborator, so the term “crossover” doesn’t fit the bill here.
Glasper knows all about what he’s trying to incorporate into his work. Whether
it feels convincing or not – that’s another story.


Robert Glasper Experiment features the pianist also playing 88s, Rhodes and synthesizer, along with Casey Benjamin (flute,
vocoder, saxophone, synthesizer), Derrick Hodge (bass) and Chris Dave (drums).
With them, they have a new guest on virtually all 12 of the album’s tracks,
including vocalists Erykah Badu, Lalah Hathaway and Meshell Ndegeocello, and
rappers such as Lupe Fiasco and Mos Def (now known as Yasiian Bey). They’re all
solid company, who can hold their own in a jazz-based environment, but Black Radio is bogged down by too many
songs that lock into the same slow tempo and a rigid two-chord vamp. Even with
Hodge and Dave driving the rhythm section, it often sounds like they were
sampled and looped.  “Gonna Be Alright
(F.T.B.),” with its ever present refrain of “I’ll be okayeeeee,” sounds bland,
especially when it follows the mind expanding rap by Lupe Fiasco in “Always
Shine” that hints early in the album of greater things to come.


that slew of slow tracks, however, Stokely Williams stirs up the band with “Why
Do We Try.” Here it has a Stevie Wonder-esque vibe with some skittery drum work
and a solid verse-chorus layout. The final two tracks plunge the Experiment
into the rock catalog, one a brilliant idea, the other a misfire. David Bowie’s
“Letter to Hermione” gets a New Orleans
second line drum beat and a heartfelt vocal from Bilal, who turns this piece of
acoustic folk into a genuine ballad. The closing “Smells Like Teen Spirit”
doesn’t fare as well. For a song that was built on the idea of
tension-and-release, the Experiment delivers it with a mellow feeling that
almost sounds like it happened as a lark in the studio. Benjamin’s vocoder
vocals don’t help, nor does the Tourette’s Syndrome bass drum sample in the
first verse. It eventually kicks up the volume, but at seven minutes, it takes
too long and doesn’t really deliver what it set out to do.


choice of material on these last two tracks, especially the Bowie deep cut,
speaks to the depth and knowledge he
has as a musician, so it’s clear that he’s not merely trying to jump on some
bandwagon in hopes or reaping more commercial success. But Black Radio would have been more successful if the music used some
of jazz’s subtle spontaneity in the arrangements instead of satisfying itself
by going for the easy laidback vibe.


DOWNLOAD: “Always Shine,” “Letter to Hermione.” MIKE SHANLEY

Masaki Batoh – Brain Pulse Music

January 01, 1970




Masaki Batoh leads the great Japanese band Ghost, an
ensemble whose masterful blend of Western acid rock/folk with its native traditional
music redefines the term “psychedelic.” Insatiable fans waiting for another
taste of that distinctive brew (it’s going on five years since the last LP)
will have to be patient a while longer, however, as Brain Pulse Music is not in the same vein.


The LP eschews the Western half of the band’s usual equation
– indeed, it arguably puts aside anything resembling a structured tune. At
least not as rock-oriented ears might hear it – folks more familiar with both
electronic ambience and Japanese traditional music might beg to differ. “Kumano
Codex 3” and “Kumano Codex 4” (the former stretching to almost 10 minutes) are
little more than slow, steady beats and melancholy flute solos, while “Eye
Tracking Test” and “Kumano Codex 1” are a pair of pulsing sine waves that sound
indistinguishable from each other. “Aiki No Okami” splits the difference by
putting a monotonic chant over buzzing electronic noises for a teeth-grating
track that doubtless makes sense in some universe or another.


This is a record of experimental sound, no more or less, and
is arguably as important an element in Batoh’s musical makeup as anything
involving guitar chords. But that doesn’t make Brain Pulse Music particularly compelling, especially not to anyone
craving a helping of Ghost music.



The Life – Alone: Deluxe Edition

January 01, 1970

(Green Monkey)


One often associates Seattle, Washington
with grunge, and not pure melodic pop rock music.  The quartet The Life was one of the most
popular underground rock bands in the Northwest during the mid to late 1980s
with their soulful vocals and the inspired fretwork of the late guitarist Tony
Bortko.  Unfortunately this band is no
longer in existence, the members having moved on to other pursuits; drummer
Eric Lichter, for example, is now in the Green Pajamas.  However, The Life’s music deserves to be
heard because of the band’s passion for honesty about the trials and
tribulations of life, truly connected with the underground music fans of Seattle.


Anyone who listens to this CD will feel a sense of
loss and hope. First, on Disc 1, a tremendous cloud of doom hovers in the
ominous “The Tunnel,” a depressing tale – about people struggling to find
happiness in a dark world – with soulful vocals and melodic riffs.  The sad journey rolls on with fourth track
“Love by the Wayside,” a gut-wrenching tale about a couple that had a great
romance but is now breaking up.  However,
the young man is pledges to get his girlfriend back someday. 


Meanwhile, on the bonus disc, one turns to a sense of
hope. “Come to Call” is an upbeat tale about a young man wanting a beautiful
woman to be with him forever even as the woman sends him mixed signals.  This track features inspired vocals and a heavy
bassline equivalent to a nervous heartbeat. 
Finally, every human being has different ideas about what being “free”
means, so the raucous, energetic and melodic “Freedom is…” depicts people
living their lives as they see fit. 


Life was played great pop rock music with a fierce intensity second-to-none;
they were celebrated in the Northwest during their tenure but fell into
obscurity due to infighting and the eventual death of Bortko. Who knows what
would have become of The Life if the band had caught on with mainstream rock
fans. With Alone: Deluxe Edition everyone gets a reminder of exactly that.


DOWNLOAD:  “The Tunnel”
(CD1); “Freedom is…” (CD2) LESLIE SNYDER



Amy Ray – Lung of Love

January 01, 1970

(Daemon Records)


With a solo career that now spans four studio albums and a
pair of live sets, Amy Ray has shown she can stand quite comfortably on her own
outside the parameters of her partnership with co-Indigo Girl Emily Saliers.
Left to her own devices, Ray takes a more tenacious approach, venturing well
beyond the precious posture that’s made the duo’s work a reliable communal bond
for their dedicated and diehard followers. “When You’re Gone, You’re Gone,” the
first track of the new album, demonstrates the assertiveness of that stance,
propelled by a steady groove and a determined vocal that make no mistake of her
earnest intents. And yet, it may be one of the more restrained songs on the
record. Feisty rockers play a predominant role here, from the brashly buoyant
“Glow” and “Little Revolution” to the edgier environs of “Crying in the
Wilderness” and “Lung of Love.”


It’s not that Ray’s become incapable of playing the fretting
folkie, or, in the case of “The Rock Is My Fountain,” a Gospel-singing devotee.
Strumming mandolin and buoyed by the backing vocals of pal Brandi Carlile, she
sings a song that resonates with both faith and assurance: “The Rock is my foundation/Jesus
is at the Bass/God is on the Kick Drum/And the Holy Spirit Sings.” Regardless, it’s in her guise as a taut new wave rocker and an
unapologetic upstart that Ray finds ultimate redemption, allowing Lung of Love to come across like another
breath of fresh air.


You’re Gone, You’re Gone,” “The Rock Is My Fountain,” “Crying in the


Watch for the BLURT
interview with Amy Ray soon….

Mind Spiders – Meltdown

January 01, 1970



The Mind Spiders started spinning a couple of years ago,
when Mark Ryan’s Marked Men compadre Jeff Burke left for Japan, effectively ending one of Texas’ best garage rock
bands. Ryan had plenty to do, with at least part time duties in a slew of other
outfits – Wax Museums, Bad Sports, High Tension Wires, etc. – but he started
Mind Spiders as an outlet for his more personal, four-tracked material. The
self-titled debut was more or less a solo effort, dragging in band mates from
Wax Museums and Bad Sports in for cameos, but largely conceived in solitude. With
Meltdown, Ryan expands on his
tuneful, new-wave-into-bubblegum aesthetic with a full band, a killer band, in
fact, with two drummers (Mike Throneberry from the Marked Men and Greg Rutherford
from The High Tension Wires) and a wonderfully wandering, psychedelic keyboard.


Side one of Meltdown busts down the barricades with hard-hitting, melodic pop-punk, jacked to the
nines on straight up drums and scrubbed out guitar chords. Ryan’s high,
tremulous voice is a dead ringer for Jay Reatard’s, especially on spook-haunted
“You Are Dead” and, like Reatard, ranges all over the power pop map. Power
chorded, palm-muted anthem “Beat” is still ringing in your ears when twitchy,
thrashy “On the Radio” comes along, and this too has hardly had a chance to die
down when Ryan switches to the soft psychedelic whispers of “More Than You.” And
this is the easy, straightforward side. Things turn even weirder in the second
half, as new wave keyboards and dystopian futurism come to the front. “Skull
Eyed” and “Join Us Now” are infectiously paranoid, their roller-rink
tunefulness sped up and topped with cartoon angst. The title track closes the
disc out in its longest, most freeform cut, a drum machine keeping time as
keyboards burble and yelp and drone.   


Mind Spiders sits on a Buzzcockian knife edge between pop
hummability and punk attack, a place that not too many bands try to inhabit
anymore. The band is, perhaps, not quite as mental as Reatard (though the
keyboards make the band sound a good bit like Jay’s Lost Sounds), not as goofy
as the Wax Museums, not as righteously hard-assed as the Marked Men.  Still if you like good tunes cranked up on
pogo beats, you can hardly do better than Meltdown. At least until Ryan starts
another band…which should happen before you finish reading this review.


DOWNLOAD: “Beat” “Skull Eyed” “Join Us Now” JENNIFER KELLY


Cash Box Kings – Holler and Stomp

January 01, 1970

(Blind Pig)


Sometimes you can tell a CD by its cover. Holler and Stomp by The Cash Box Kings
features a cover of a white guy in a huge white cowboy hat and a black dude
wearing a bluesman black fedora. So what is this: a country record or a blues
record? Well, it is both. Holler and
by the Chicago
band featuring Joe Nosek on harmonica and cowboy hat and 6’3″, 300 pound Oscar
Wilson on vocals and fedora is a throwback album. It seeks to find the place
where country music intersected with the blues back in the 1950’s. And this
ambitious goal pays off in a wonderful, enjoyable album.


Holler and Stomp would
be much appreciated by the late Sam Phillips, who created Sun Records in Memphis. In the strictly
segregated post-World War II American south, Phillips recorded white guys like
Johnny Cash and Charlie Rich and black cats like Howlin’ Wolf and Ike Turner.
And Phillips famously once said if he could ever find a white boy to sing like
a black man he would make a fortune. Then one day a truck driver named Elvis
Presley walked off the street into his studio.


The Cash Box Kings are going on this CD for a raw, stripped
down sound that you found on early tracks from Sun or Chess Records in Chicago.
So there are scratchy guitars and driving Little Walter-like harp and standup
bass playing like Willie Dixon did on all the classic Chess tracks. There are
covers on Holler and Stomp of both
early Muddy Waters and vintage Hank Williams. There is also a track by
rockabilly’s Ray Shape, who as a reverse Elvis was called in his day, “the greatest white-sounding black dude
ever.” And since the blues and country had a baby called “rock and roll” there is
even a cover of an early Jagger/Richards Rolling Stones hit called “Off the
Hook. The latter in the hands of The Cash Box Kings comes off less as a pop tune
than as an electrified county song.


You might think all of this might be too ambitious for one CD
or mark this effort as little more than a musical history lesson, but this is
an excellent album. The Cash Box Kings are a tight band. They give us an
energetic, respectful, tribute to the music they love. Listen to the second cut
“That’s My Gal” and you will be captured
immediately by intro, which pays tribute to the the Louisiana swamp blues of
Slim Harpo’s “Baby Scratch My Back.” The fourth cut is one of Muddy’s first
hits for Chess, “Feel like Going Home” with its deep blues lyric: “Brook flows
into the ocean and ocean flows into the sea/ If I don’t find my baby, somebody
will bury me.” The blues does not get much deeper. On a song like “Hayseed
Strut” we hear a country swing song that might have people two-steppin’ in a
roadhouse on a Saturday night, complete with country mandolin and an upright
bass solo.


The Cash Box Kings understand that when it comes to music what
unites us is far stronger than what divides us. This is the truth that Sam
Phillips practiced in his tiny studio sixty years ago. People wanted music they
could dance to and music that reflected their struggles and lives. They didn’t
care about its color. And Elvis, to his eternal credit, was brave enough to
bridge the gap between country and blues and music was never the same. Also to the
King’s credit, he never stopped giving props to the music that inspired him.
You can hear him doing that in his 1968 comeback special, in effect challenging
a new generation to go back and discover the glory of Jimmy Reed or Lloyd
Price. And The Cash Box Kings have done exactly the same thing decades later on
Holler and Stomp. You will not be
disappointed. It will be interesting to see what they come out with next.



My Girl” “Feel Like Going Home” “Blues Come Around” TOM CALLAHAN 




Isidore (Steve Kilbey & Jeffrey Cain) – Life Somewhere Else

January 01, 1970



“When someone asks me to what extent my
work is autobiographical, I say, ‘Every word is autobiographical, and every
word is fiction.'” –
William S. Burroughs, in conversation with Tennessee
Williams, 1977.


Kilbey – musician, painter, longtime bassist, singer, and lyricist for the Church,
and, in recent years, compulsive blogger, has been cranking out a lot of words
over the years that could be considered simultaneously autobiographical and
fictitious. His songs are typically populated with kings, pharaohs, ancient
armies, reincarnated lovers, and all other manner of creative anachronism, and
yet nearly every verse contains a bit of personal revelation buried amidst the
verbal ornamentation. It doesn’t always work; the label “pretentious”
has frequently, and with some justification, been levied. But when it does work (which is surprisingly often
considering all of the moving pieces at play), the combination of his words and
music stand in pretty effectively for just about any recreational drug you
would want to take.


Kilbey’s ongoing collaborative project Isidore, with Jeffrey Cain of the band
Remy Zero, poses a potential problem here: with Kilbey relinquishing all
musical composition duties to Cain and focusing exclusively on the lyrics, can
that crucial, alchemic mix of words and music still be attained? In this case,
the answer is an unequivocal yes, as Cain proves himself a talented composer
deeply sympathetic to Kilbey’s muse. He is so good, in fact, that when Kilbey’s lyrics meander toward the ridiculous, as
they sometimes do in Isidore’s more aggressive numbers, Cain’s music always
keeps the songs driving forward.


Life Somewhere Else (Communicating Vessels),
the second full-length Isidore album, improves on its eponymous predecessor in
a number of ways: bigger, more ambitious arrangements; tighter songwriting;
more focused singing; and, crucially, the use of live drums on many key tracks.
Kilbey is still in need of an editor, or at least a “second opinion,”
on some of his material, but overall
the album maintains a base level of “very good” and soars in many
places to “superb.” Stylistically it runs the gamut from delicate
ballads to harsh Iggy and the Stooges-style rockers. The highlight is a
remarkable song cycle beginning with track #2, “Life Somewhere Else,”
and culminating in track 6: “Some Reverse Magic.” The lyrics to these
songs are the most nakedly personal Kilbey has ever penned, shorn of all but
the most necessary poetic language. These mini-narratives address some
difficult subjects: domestic discord, alcohol abuse, self-recrimination, anger
at God (“Someone up there trying to dislocate me / Someone up there must
really fucking hate me” he sings on “Recoil”), all culminating
in perhaps the most surprising song of all, “Some Reverse Magic,” in
which Kilbey addresses Jesus Christ and makes a startling admission: “I
never noticed it before / You’ve walked beside me all the way.” Taken as a
single statement, this unfolding progression of songs is in the running for the
best work of Kilbey’s career and, as previously noted, Kilbey is only half of
it. Cain’s arrangements feature exquisitely blended electric and acoustic
guitars, supple yet unobtrusive bass, a mixture of electronic and organic
percussion (my one criticism here: I feel that the music would be even stronger
if the entire album featured live drums), and keyboard textures that perfectly
cast the other instruments in relief. He values melody above all other
considerations, and as a result the album is crammed full of hooks – offsetting
the sometimes bleak nature of the lyrics.


something about this music, some hard-to-define quality – the way particular
chords go together, perhaps, or the soulful manner in which individual notes are
wrung from their instruments – that feels deeper, more poignant than anything
on the previous Isidore album. A clue comes from the liner notes, which reveal
that Cain’s former bandmate (and childhood friend) Gregory Slay passed away
shortly before the bulk of the album was recorded. Perhaps, then, Cain’s music
here is partly born of grief. Whatever the cause, Jeffrey Cain is the true star
of Isidore II – and considering how strong Kilbey’s contribution is, that’s
really saying something.


Any Remy
Zero or Church fan would be well-advised to pick this up. And, for those
listeners of the church who may have previously felt intimidated by the
avalanche of solo/side projects on offer from Kilbey and co., this is a good
place to start. Isidore doesn’t really feel like a “side” anything.
It’s a main event.


Somewhere Else,” “Old Black Spirit,” “Recoil,” “Some Reverse Magic” ROBERT DEAN