Monthly Archives: April 2012

Chicken Snake – Trouble On My Doorstep

January 01, 1970

(Thick Syrup Records)



The Devil is in the details, and he’s also willing to parlay
with you for possession of your soul down at the crossroads at midnight. As
everyone is well aware, the best candy on Earth comes from Mars, and the best
music comes from the Devil. I invoke this image because of the
blues-meets-hoodoo style of music Chicken Snake creates, complete with all the
trappings of evil eyes, St. John the Conqueror root, snakes, Spanish
moss-dripping swamp cypress, plus tales of true love, murder, poison and
downright filthy blues. Jerry and Pauline Teel, the creative force and
songwriters behind Chicken Snake, grew up in Alabama
and Texas and spent time living in, and loving
New Orleans,
until Katrina descended, destroying their home and lives, forcing them to the
East coast to recoup their losses and regroup.


The pedigree of its members is staggering. Jerry Teel,
vocals, bass and blues harp, has kicked major ass for years in bands like The
Chrome Cranks, Honeymoon Killers, Knoxville Girls, Boss Hog and Big City
Stompers. If those names don’t spark some recognition, then, go to bed kid, you
bother me. Pauline, who was also in Big City Stompers, now providing vocals and
fiddle; Josh Lee Hooker, on guitar, played with the Headless Hookers; Danny
Hole drummed with Kid Congo & the Pink Monkeybirds and Nick Ray, also on
guitar and piano, played with the down and dirty ’68 Comeback. All said and
done, the music isn’t your old hippy-style blues, but a grittier blues
exploding with a full-frontal, shredding sonic attack, above and beyond the
call of duty.  There’s an extra dimension
of blood-curdling guitar attacks that brings to mind Tim Kerr’s
blues-deconstructing outfit, Jack O’ Fire, coupled with Holly Golightly & the
Brokeoffs for a rustic twang. Jerry’s vocals coupled with Pauline, lean towards
John and Exene harmonizing, a little off-kilter. Any band can play the blues,
or country-blues, but with a crack team like this, you get a lot more than you
expect, which makes this a highly entertaining outing. A match made in Hell.




Like their debut album, Lucky
, the group recorded in New York and the finished mix done back home in
Virginia. “Loathsome Blues” is a stomp and shouter with Jerry doing some
hyperventilated blues harp, along with some very authoritative guitar
discharges from Ray. Things get more countrified on “Hey Man,” that reminded me
of Oakley Hall with its touch of psych blended in.  In “Doctor Doctor,” there ain’t no cure to be
found for what ails a broken heart, a pile of bills, sleeplessness and the woes
of the world falling on your head. But it doesn’t hurt to consult for a
diagnosis and hope that there’s a cure to be had. There’s more trouble at the
doorstep in “If The Creek Don’t Rise,” with some slippery-slide guitar work and
off-kilter guitar skittering and clanging. There’s a truly awesome cover of
Dylan’s “I Am A Lonesome Hobo” that’s reminiscent of a version you might hear
the Stones offer, except for a
gnarly psychedelic jam in the middle I can’t envisage the Stones doing. The band really takes off on “Hogback
Road (Route 666),” the most rocking number in the bunch, launching off with a
quick-cadence drumbeat and Bo Diddly-like bounce, rollicking merrily down the
road to Hell. “Alabama Diamondback” is a slithery cool, slow blues dripping
with venom and menace. The album finishes on another high note with “Fortune
Teller Blues” with its buzzsaw electronic effects and oscillation onslaught
cutting into the slide guitar jam.


It’s a comforting thought as you are finally traversing down
the highway to Hell, smoothly paved with all those good intentions and
politicians’ promises, this album blasting from the speakers, that it might not
be so bad spending eternity there. After all, the music will be great, and most
of your friends, and some really cool people and damn hot musicians will
probably be there to keep you company!


DOWNLOAD: “I Am A Lonesome Hobo,” “Fortune Teller Blues,” and “If
The Creek Don’t Rise” BARRY ST. VITUS


Glenn Hughes: The Autobiography

January 01, 1970





Hughes is a contradiction – the talented singer, songwriter, and musician remains
a relatively obscure figure in America, in spite of his status as a bona fide
rock ‘n’ roll legend. Although you may not have heard of Hughes, or maybe remember
his name only vaguely, chances are that if you’re a fan of ye olde
“classic rock,” you’ve probably heard the “voice of rock”
upon a time.


tenure with bands such as Trapeze, Deep Purple, and Black Sabbath during the
1970s and ’80s has long been the stuff of myth, while collaborations with
like-minded musicians like Sabbath’s Tony Iommi, singer Joe Lynn Turner, and
guitarist Pat Thrall have only added to his legacy. Throw in a moderately successful
solo career (especially in Europe) that has yielded almost two-dozen
recordings, and add Hughes’ role as an integral part of the classic rock
supergroup Black Country Communion, and the question becomes not “who is
Glenn Hughes” but, rather, “why haven’t you heard of Glenn


better than 40 years of rock ‘n’ roll history behind him, Hughes has some
stories to tell, and tell them he does in Glenn
Hughes: The Autobiography
. Unlike similar celebrity rock bios that either shovel
mud on somebody else (Keith, I’m thinking of you) or mindlessly revel in behavioral
excesses (ahem, Mutley Crew…), the punches that Hughes throws are almost exclusively
thrown at himself. Glenn has been a
bad boy through the years, and the decades of soul-seeking and struggling with
addiction he reveals in these pages aren’t shared as thinly-veiled boasts but
rather as cautionary tales.


Hughes’ longtime struggle with cocaine is certainly no secret to many in the
industry, the extent to which it threatened to derail his career is shocking in
its extremity. That Hughes managed to come out the other side of decades of
abuse with his musical gifts and sense of humor intact is not only amazing, but
downright encouraging. Aside from the obvious sincerity that shines from the
pages of Glenn Hughes: The Autobiography,
Hughes’ conversational style and the way he frames his story conveys a
friendliness and down-to-earth personality that the average reader can relate
with. Personally, I’ve spoken with Hughes on occasion, and have always been
struck at the ease in which he engages you…it’s like meeting an old friend on
the street and coming away thinking “what a hell of a guy!” 


As for the
dirt in Glenn Hughes: The Autobiography,
there’s little of it, really, although Hughes comes embarrassingly clean on a
number of high-profile sexual and romantic liaisons, and offers the truth, from
his perspective, of a number of high and low points throughout his storied
career, most of the self-professed lows involving drugs of one sort or another.
The bio begins with a brief overview of his childhood and teen years, and
touches upon his early musical efforts. Hughes’ first band of note, the
vastly-underrated Trapeze, is covered to some extent, leading up to the
unexpected break that would launch his career into the stratosphere – his
recruitment as a member of Deep Purple.


Deep Purple in 1973 was a huge advance for the young singer and bass player’s
career. Purple were already one of a handful of jet-setting, globe-spanning
superstar rock bands at the time, and Purple’s choice to bring in Hughes and vocalist
David Coverdale to replace Ian Gilliam and Roger Glover had the band’s longtime
fans wondering. Hughes contributed bass and vocals to three of the band’s
mid-to-late 1970s studio albums, and a handful of live discs, and he goes into
detail on his time with the band, his relationships with both old members like
Jon Lord and Ian Paice as well as newcomers like Coverdale and, later, Tommy
Bolin. For a Purple fan, Hughes’ memories of his time with the band – positive and negative – provide priceless inside


After the
break-up of Deep Purple, Hughes would be involved with a number of various
projects, some more successful, creatively and/or commercially, than others. There
would be a short-lived Trapeze reunion, a pair of well-regarded albums made
with former Pat Travers guitarist Pat Thrall (Hughes/Thrall); an unsatisfying
collaboration with blues-rock guitarist Gary Moore; and a number of projects
with Tony Iommi, some better than others, that would culminate in the
ill-conceived Iommi solo work cum Black Sabbath album-in-name-only Seventh Star. Some of these projects Hughes
touches upon only fleetingly, others he offers more detail, but often they are
just presented as an interesting aspect of the overall narrative flow.


Also only
briefly addressed is Hughes’ seemingly secret career as a studio gun for hire.
Although Hughes’ career is indelibly marked by high-profile band memberships
and musical collaborations, he has also often lent his talents to a lengthy
list of other artists’ recordings. Among Hughes’ session credits are those one
would expect – guest appearances on albums by Purple alumni like Roger Glover,
Jon Lord, and Tommy Bolin – the not entirely unexpected, such as singing with
Pat Travers or Ken Hensley (Uriah Heep), and the surprisingly diverse,
including sessions with the KLF, Motley Crue, Ryo Okumoto, and Quiet Riot,
among many others. One gets the sense that Hughes brought his unique voice to
many of these sessions not for monetary gain (although there probably was some)
but rather because of the immense joy he has in the music.


short-shrift by Glenn Hughes: The
is the artist’s lengthy and, at times, brilliant solo career,
which began in 1977 has since resulted in a number of solid albums of Hughes’
trademark funk-infused rock ‘n’ soul music. Although Hughes touches upon a few
of the milestones of his solo work, including his 1977 debut Play Me Out, he concentrates mostly on
his post-sobriety recordings of the 21st century, which include such gems as
2003’s Songs In The Key Of Rock,
2005’s Soul Mover, and 2006’s Music For The Divine.


A little
more insight is provided Hughes’ role in the formation of Black Country
Communion with blues-rock guitarist Joe Bonamassa, drummer Jason Bonham, and
keyboardist Derek Sherinian. Hughes has seemingly found a new creative spark
playing alongside these three talented musicians, and the overwhelming European
acceptance of the band’s blues,
rock, and soul hybrid sound has added another interesting chapter to Hughes’ still-ongoing story. Two studio albums
and a live CD and DVD into the career of a band that’s only a couple of years
old, only stateside dominance as eluded Black Country Communion so far.


Glenn Hughes: The Autobiography is constructed as a
sort of oral history, with Hughes’ recollections punctuated by commentary from family
(including his wife and parents), friends like Rob Halford (Judas Priest) and
Tom Morello, and former bandmates like Coverdale, Thrall, and Iommi. Woven
throughout Hughes’ tales of famous musicians and various girlfriends, however,
is that of his struggle in the face of overwhelming addiction, including the
self-deceit, the rationalized relapses, and the final moment of clarity where
Hughes heard the voice of God (not literally, tho’ maybe…I’m not revealing any
spoilers!) that led to his current sobriety and obvious joy of life.


Overall, Glenn Hughes: The Autobiography tells an
amazing and engaging story – that of the rock star brought down to earth and
subsequently resurrected to enjoy a second (third?) chapter
of his career. One aspect of the book seemingly overlooked by others who have
reviewed it is the perspective of the various people who have offered their
comments on Hughes. Without exception,
they all seem genuinely relieved that Hughes has found peace with himself,
their comments displaying a fondness for the man and an appreciation of his
talents…for Glenn Hughes is living proof that a nice guy can finish first…




David Olney – The Stone

January 01, 1970



David Olney is one of the city’s truly underrated musical treasures… forget
Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw and all that Music Row pap, ’cause while they may
be selling more records they’re not, at heart, true storytellers. They simply
take clichéd words cranked out by some Music City
songwriting assembly line and imbue the material with a modicum of personality.
By contrast, Olney is an old-school wordsmith in the Townes Van Zandt
tradition, mixing folk and blues with roots-rock in spinning tales that shoot
straight for the heart of the human condition.


second mini-album, The Stone
following last year’s Film Noir EP
and released in time for the Easter holiday – is a six-song EP providing a unique
accounting of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Olney revisits three older
songs on The Stone, providing his
previous creations with new interpretations, adding three new songs to complete
his insightful personal take on “the greatest story ever told.” What
makes Olney’s version here so mesmerizing is that each song takes a different
lyrical view of Christ’s resurrection, the story told, in turn, by a con man, a
donkey, a murderer, and a soldier.


The Stone opens with “Jerusalem Tomorrow,” Sergio
Webb’s classical-styled guitarplay weaving a beautiful tapestry of sound behind
Olney’s rich, sonorous spoken word vocals. This is the con man’s tale,
originally appearing on Olney’s 1989 album Deeper
and later recorded by Emmylou Harris. An intricate first-hand tale of Christ’s
ministry, it’s a prelude, of sorts, of the story to follow. Another older song,
the largely-forgotten “Brays” from Olney’s 1995 album High, Wide and Lonesome, offers the
perspective of a lowly donkey who feels like a stallion after carrying a humble
Jesus on his back. “Blessed am I of all creatures, blessed am I of all
beasts,” sings the donkey in Olney’s haunting voice, the lyrics
accompanied by producer Jack Irwin’s ethereal orchestration, which creates a
fascinating musical atmosphere.


One of the
EP’s new compositions, “Brains” is a funky blues romp fueled by
Olney’s growling vocals and fluid harmonica playing. Told from the perspective
of a policeman looking to find out “the brains of the operation”
behind Jesus and his disciples, with a sly reference to Judas on the side, it’s
an unlikely but effective way to recount the story, and probably the most
playful song on the EP. David Roe’s subtle bass lines and Irwin’s nuanced
percussion lay down a solid foundation beneath Olney’s voice, the lyrics
calling to mind every cop-show cliché you’ve ever seen on TV, delivered with
tongue only partly in cheek. Seemingly referring to the last supper, “Flesh
and Blood” is a more traditionally folk-oriented performance, with Olney’s
droning guitar-strum providing a counterpoint to his warm vocals, a bit of
Woody Guthrie-styled harmonica complimented by Webb’s piercing guitar tones.


The last
of the old tracks, the amazing “Barabbas,” originally appeared on
Olney’s 1999 album Through A Glass Darkly.
A central character in the Christ narrative, the thief Barabbas had his death
sentence commuted by Pontius Pilate while Jesus of Nazareth was crucified. Astride
Webb’s strident classical fretwork, Olney tells his rambling tale of Barabbas’s
imprisonment with Jesus and subsequent freedom, the thief later questioning his
release and traveling across the land to tell his tale which, in itself, represents
a form of spiritual redemption.
Irwin lays in mariachi-styled horns in places, their odd dissonance adding
nicely to the overall vibe of the story while Webb’s intricate and beautiful
guitar playing is simply breathtaking.


The Stone ends with “A Soldier’s Report,” the
tale of Christ’s resurrection told in the somber voice of a confused and
troubled soldier present at the crucifixion and charged with guarding the tomb
of Jesus. Above Webb’s insistent and sometimes discordant fretwork, with a few
cacophonic blasts of horn thrown in, Olney unfolds the soldier’s shame at
discovering that Christ’s body had disappeared, and his subsequent misgivings
about the future that the mysterious event portends. It’s a powerful
performance, Olney closing out The Stone with an open ending that invites further musical examination.


Olney is not a Christian songwriter, per se, nor does he frequent religious
themes often, but when he does address matters of faith, he does so with the
same intelligence and in the same thought-provoking manner as every song he
pens. With The Stone, Olney has
successfully wrestled with difficult religious mythology, adding his artistic
voice to the history of the tale with no little majesty and grace.    


DOWNLOAD: “Brays,” “Flesh and Blood,”

Carter Tutti Void – Transverse

January 01, 1970


Four rough-edged slabs of ambient/industrial music, Transverse is a collaboration between longtime partners Chris
Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti (aka Chris and Cosey, once of Throbbing Gristle)
and Nik Void (aka Nik Colk, of next-generation noise-punk outfit Factory
Floor). Employing a squelchy synth heartbeat as its midtempo locomotion, the
music is deliberate yet often spontaneous, striding coolly between bursts of
noise and shards of vocalese.

The pieces — titled “V1” through “V4” — were planned in
advance, but mostly improvised live at London’s
“Short Circuit Presents Mute” festival in May 2011. Each runs about
10 minutes, making the whole album LP-length. This may be a tribute to the good
old pre-CD days, a bow to vinyl’s limited comeback or just a coincidence.

Heavy on flailing, pulsing and feedback, “V2” is the harshest
movement. “V3” opens in a similar mode, but uses a lot of treated
female warbling, making it the most goth of the suite. Even during
“V3,” no one would mistake Transverse for the Cocteau Twins. But
moments of stark beauty do chime or trill within the trio’s overall locked-in-the-engine-room

DOWNLOAD: If you want one, you want
them all. MARK JENKINS

CFCF – Exercises

January 01, 1970

(Paper Bag)


If “CFCF” sounds familiar, it could be per Michael
Silver/CFCF’s DJing, or his remixing of tracks by The Presets, Crystal
Castles, Owen Pallett, or Sally Shapiro. For someone who’s unfamiliar with
the Montreal-based composer and electronic technician, hot spots of interest
can arise from his ambitions and influences. His last album, The River, was inspired by Werner
Herzog’s film, Fitzcarraldo (and,
by extension, one assumes, the work of ‘70s trip-meisters Popol Vuh).
Promotion for Exercises mentions
other associations and influences that tend to raise the pulses of
Progressive and/or Electronica junkies: Philip Glass! Ryuichi Sakamoto! Peter
Gabriel! David Sylvian!


Researching the work of a heretofore-unknown artist can
raise expectations to an absurd degree. Perhaps the best approach is that of
scanning said artist’s history, rep., and influences/associations, then
proceeding from a naif-like position.


About 10 plays into its 26 primarily ambient minutes, Exercises proves itself to be
well-constructed, sophisticated, relaxing, and pleasant. Whether manifesting
as the measured piano notes with smoky swirls of electronic ambience of
“Exercise #1 (Entry)” or the looping cadences of “Exercise # 4 (Spirit),”
which gets close to Sakamoto’s hypnotic majesty, Exercises is… nice. A few moments of more lucid beauty, as on
“Exercise #6 (December),” hint at where CFCF might venture if he went further
into feeling, rather than moving on to the next track after four-or-less
minutes. In fact, No. 6 would be a dream segue after Little Dragon’s “Twice.”
CFCF seems most authentic on “Exercise #7 (Loss),” which effectively blends a
vaguely Oriental atmosphere with some of Popol Vuh’s sense of movement and,
one hopes, Silver’s feelings and/or musings.


Serenity is an often undervalued commodity. That Exercises often fades so completely
into the background, or one’s consciousness, could mean it’s being marketed
in the wrong genre. It might do better in the hands of a new age hawker of
peace and well-being. As progressive electronica, it’s a bit of a snore.
While quiet piano music (with or without electronica) can be profusely
evocative, in this case it’s too much like the short drizzle – with a couple
of surprising, albeit brief  rainbows —
that disappoints when the forecast has called for a nice, steady downpour.


DOWNLOAD: “Exercise No. 6 (December),” “Exercise No. 4 (Spirit)” MARY LEARY



Loops of Your Heart – And Never Ending Nights

January 01, 1970



Not even six
months since the release of The Field’s third LP Looping State of Mind,
Axel Willner returns with a more cerebral side of his creative method with the
debut of his latest project, Loops Of Your Heart.


Anyone who has
fallen for the Swedish producer’s distinctive mastery of minimal techno
kinetics will certainly be surprised by the unabashedly experimental nature of And
Never Ending Nights
, a 47 minute journey through Willner’s extended sojourn
in Germany, where he absorbed the art of kosmische like so much St. Pauli Girl that expounds upon his work with the group Cologne
Tape, with whom he recorded during his time in Deutschland and whose excellent
2010 LP Render is well worth seeking out. Throughout these seven new
compositions, you can clearly hear the evidence of such Krautrock classics as
Tangerine Dream’s Phaedra, After the Heat by Brian Eno with
Cluster’s Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Holger Czukay’s On
the Way to the Peak of Normal
bubbling under the arpeggiated ambience he
delivers across selections like “Broken Bow” and “Lost in the


For those a bit
put off by the overt club friendliness of The Field but intrigued by Willner’s
affinity for glitch, Loops is definitely your conduit into the abstract nature
of this BPM bard’s state of mind.


DOWNLOAD: “Broken Bow”, “Cries”,
“Lost in the Mirror” RON HART 


Lucero – Women & Work

January 01, 1970

(ATO Records)


Like pairing some old worn-in cowboy boots with a faded
Clash t-shirt, the country punk sound of Lucero’s eighth album just comes across
as naturally comfortable.

Women & Work,
produced by punk rock’s hardest working go-to-guy Ted Hutt (Flogging Molly,
Gaslight Anthem, Bouncing Souls), finds the Memphis band at complete ease with
their mix of ‘70s outlaw country and plenty of punk rock attitude and swagger,
making it easily the most consistently solid release in their already enviable
cannon of music.


The idea to bring in local horn legends Jim Spake and Scott
Thompson, who have worked with everyone from Al Green to Solomon Burke, was a
stroke of genius, underscoring the strong musicianship of this road-tested six-piece
(averaging about 200 shows a year). The horns on songs like the raucous, tear
in my beer “It May Be Too Late” and the honky tonk-worthy “Juniper,” mix well
with Ben Nichols’ gravel and whiskey delivery. Along with the addition of Spake
and Thompson, the gospel choir-backed “Go Easy” again finds the band remarkably
at ease trying something entirely new.


Lyrically, with many of the songs centered on bars, buddies
and women, you can’t help but think of folks like Willie, Waylon, Jerry Jeff
Walker and John Prine when listening to Women
& Work
, which makes sense if you think about it. All four were punk
rockers long before and well after the genre was ever established.   


Way Downtown,”  “Who You Waiting On?” and
“It May Be Too Late”   JOHN B. MOORE


The Freddie Steady 5 – 1000 Miles

January 01, 1970

(Steady Boy)


Those with a craving for nostalgia inevitably find a certain
sense of déjà vu in each and every new effort by Freddie Steady Krc and his
colleagues, and, true to form, the six song 1000
is no exception. Krc and company appear to do things the old fashion
way, from running a record label seeped in homegrown values to melding a
distinctly retro sound, one seeped in rockabilly, Mersey Beat and all things


Happily though, there’s never a feeling that they’re merely
mimicking their sources; rather, there’s a genuine inbred honesty that suggests
this Austin Texas five-piece is actually plying their roots. That makes rowdy
rave-ups like “1000 Miles” and “My Whole World” more than mere guilty pleasure
and less like imitation. Sure, there’s more than a hint of familiarity
throughout, especially in the breezy blues of “Like a Bear Loves Honey” and the
stoic sound of “I Will Wait For You.” And on “Crackin’ Up,” when Krc croons,
“Have you every been lonely, have you ever been blue? Have you ever wanted
someone, so much more than they wanted you?,” it’s all but certain that anyone
who’s ever suffered from a bout of romantic angst will find themselves reliving
it again.

DOWNLOAD: “1000 Miles,” “Crackin’
Up,” “I Will Wait For You” LEE ZIMMERMAN

Orcas – Orcas

January 01, 1970

(Morr Music)


The aesthetics of avant-leaning “slow” music are complex and
tricky. You’re going for transcendence, often through ambiance, minimalism and
drone, yet you’re also trying to be distinctive and individualistic. If your
sound is too spare or acoustic, it risks becoming aural wallpaper –
fundamentally conservative New Age music. Yet if you layer on studio wizardry
to build texture and edge, you risk being just another “dream pop” act, a
recognizable and well-worn niche. Another problem for the artist is what to do
about vocals – if too vividly expressive, either because of upfront singing or
overly detailed lyrics, they spoil the overall aura. But if too restrained, it
sounds enervated and passive…and instantly forgettable.


It’s a wonder, really, given how daunting it is to add
anything meaningful to what’s already out there, that anyone still tries it.
Yet if it works, it’s just so damn beautiful – sorrowful yet blissful, timelessly
gorgeous, contemplative music that blows away all the crass and contrivance of
so much of the commercial alternative-rock marketplace. Yet at the same time,
it is itself a new statement and, broadly speaking, “pop music.”


Benoit Pioulard and Rafael Anton Irisarri, recording under
the name Orcas, have a new self-titled album that is largely successful at
being avant-slow but still dynamic. Pioulard (an American
singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist whose actual name is Thomas Meluch and
who has recorded prolifically for the past decade) and Irisarri (an American
post-minimalist composer/guitarist/laptop
manipulator who has done remixes for rock groups) created Orcas after first
collaborating on a version of Broadcast’s “Until Then” and liking the results.
They did it in memory of Trish Keenan, Broadcast’s vocalist who died last year.


“Until Then” is on the album – the only cover – and is a
good indication of how talented these two are at putting just enough structure
on their drifting, ethereal arrangements to keep them from floating away. On
it, Pioulard’s piano-key notes lead and direct his quietly determined, clear
voice through the melancholy song’s darkness to another place, maybe a better
one and maybe not. Textured electronic white noise builds up and then drops
back, prompting relief or
disappointment for the listener.


On “I Saw My Echo,” a pulsing, repetitive electronic crackle
– pure minimalism – leads into a ghostly piano figure and then retreats. In a
high, gentle voice, as an acoustic guitar enters, Pioulard sings the
bittersweet melody just this side of clarity. You find yourself leaning into
the mystery of the imagery, getting just enough of it to sense the importance
of the words as they come in and out of hearing range. Guest Simon Scott’s
treatments create a choral effect, letting the song slowly bloom outward until
it reverses itself to fade away.


“Pallor Cedes,” the album opener, has forebodingly bluesy,
isolated electric guitar – the scratchy sound makes one wonder if it’s a sample
of Junior Kimbrough – leading into Pioulard’s multitracked vocal. His words
“like coming out for air” set the tone – there’s something both positive yet
apprehensive in his intonation. In the wispily introspective “Arrow Drawn,”
which has enough “live” acoustic guitar to conjure a Nick Drake or John Martyn
song, Pioulard lets the melody’s fragile, eerie loveliness build to the
denouement “I never cared about you, really.” The song echoes and slightly
quivers with its sense of heartbreak.


Orcas doesn’t
always conquer all the problems that beset quiet, slow albums reaching for
artistic profundity – the listener tends to tune out when it become too much of
an aural wash for the voice to wade through. That happens on “Carrion.” But the
preponderance of the material here creates its own world, on its own terms, and
beckons you to go inside. And you will.


DOWNLOAD:  “Arrow Drawn,” “Until Then” STEVEN ROSEN






Lee Fields & the Expressions – Faithful Man

January 01, 1970

(Truth & Soul)


It is some consolation that, even as we continue to lose our
A-team of deep soul/classic R&B singers of the 1960s and 1970s like Etta
James and Solomon Burke, a group of talented, authentic, relative newcomers
have been able to jumpstart their careers in middle age (or older). Those
include Bettye LaVette, Sharon King, Syl Johnson, Charles Bradley, Andre
Williams. They have often been helped by small labels with a pronounced
retro-soul bent but a contemporary flair.


To this group, add Lee Fields – whose excellent Faithful Man is a product of the dream
team of producers, arrangers, songwriters and players (the house band called
the Expressions) at Brooklyn’s Truth & Soul Records, whose history
parallels Brooklyn’s better-known Daptone.


Fields recorded some small-label, James Brown-influenced
soul-and-funk records in the 1970s, the kind of stuff obsessed over by samplers
and British collectors. He started his “comeback” in the 1990s, without much
impact, but entered a new phase last decade when Truth & Soul started
recording him. This album, produced by label honchos Jeff Silverman and Leon
Michels, shows how well label and artist now understand each other. They both
intuitively sense the perfect moment to slam home emotion with a musically
boldfaced chord change and a burst of vocal prowess.


Fields’ voice has a pleading, straining urgency in its upper
register, but it comes across full of gritty strength and ripping intensity in
mid-range. The Expressions, who include Michels on multiple instruments
including saxophone and guitar, are perfect companions for this soul-revival
recording, augmented by eddying string arrangements and forceful supporting
vocals by Nicole Wray and Clifton Reid.


Truth & Soul seems to approach the songwriting
collectively – as many as seven names appear on an individual song credit,
usually including Silverman, Michels and Wray, as well as other band members.
(Fields only shares a credit on two of eight original songs (a tenth, called
“Intermission,” is just an instrumental break).


As in classic deep soul, the best songs tend to be about
heartbreak and loss, expressed with a confessional vulnerability that can erupt from introspection into a raw scream. The title
composition, which is addressed to a young woman who is tempting him to “do wrong” on his wife, peaks with one
of his most shredding yowls. “I Still Got It,” which you might expect to be an
exercise in cloying braggadocio, is actually an act of stirring defiance in the
face of problems. Even with a smoothly optimistic
horn-charged opening and an ongoing quick tempo, there’s a minor-key
underpinning to the melody.


The best song, “Wish You Were Here,” rushes past an
occasional cliché or two to confront loss – possibly death of a loved one –
with honesty and sadness. Fields gets perfectly the moments to accentuate that
loss, and the moments to be strong.


Occasionally, the retro-feel comes on too strong -the
brightly guitar-and-bass-driven, horn-punctuated TK shuffle of “You’re the
Kinda Girl” might have you running for K.C. and the Sunshine Band’s “Keep It
Comin’ Love.” (Toby Pazner does have a great organ run late in the song.) And a
shortened version of the Rolling Stones’ “Moonlight Mile” seems pointless.


But overall, Lee Fields is another late-period, deep-soul
success story. For those labels dedicated to this kind of music, and the
performers out there still looking for their best shot, keep it comin’.


DOWNLOAD: “Faithful
Man,” “Wish You Were Here” STEVEN ROSEN