Monthly Archives: September 2014

LUCINDA WILLIAMS – Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone

Album: Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone

Artist: Lucinda Williams

Label: Highway 20

Release Date: September 30, 2014

Lucinda Williams 9-30

www.lucindawilliams.com

BY FRED MILLS

Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone represents a significant high water mark for Lucinda Williams, who in the recent past has released a number of just-okay albums that always seemed to leave the listener wanting more. A double CD (or triple LP), it’s technically not her first double, but in an artistic sense, it is—and artistically, it almost feels like a comeback, since her 2005 2CD concert album, Live @ The Fillmore, could charitably be described as “meandering,” and subsequent studio recs, including the occasionally-strong West and the blissfully tepid Blessed, had the feel of treading water. While boasting a hall-of-fame roster’s worth of players and guests that includes Tony Joe White Ian McLagan, Bill Frisell, Greg Leisz, Jonathan Wilson and Jakob Dylan plus a rotating rhythm section (primarily Pete Thomas and Davey Faragaher), the record is also 100% Lucinda Williams, a snapshot—or feature-length film, take your pick—of a 61-year old woman fully renewed and at the height of her creative powers.

On the surface, DWTSMTB is an unapologetic throwback to vintage country soul/funk swamp-pop—it actually sounds like it might’ve been cut in Memphis or at Muscle Shoals, but in fact it was done at a studio in North Hollywood—while still conjuring the contradictory elements that made us fall in love with Williams in the first place: saucy-yet-sensitive vocals, abetted by rutting-in-the-dirt twang and leavened-by-angels jangle; plus intimate turns of phrase betraying the hurt of an old soul and the ecstasy of one eternally young (sometimes all in the space of a single song, such as with “When I Look at the World,” in which she sings in one verse, “I’ve made a mess of things/ I’ve been a total wreck,” only to pick herself up shortly after, admitting how “I look at the world/ In all its glory/ I look at the world/ And it’s a different story”). There’s an uncommon depth here that hasn’t been evidenced on Williams records in ages, both in the sonics (an immaculately crafted blend of intimate and widescreen) and the lyrics, which at times are deeply confessional and others downright defiant as the songwriter stares down her demons, the vicissitudes of relationships and the rampant idiocy of the outside world.

Disc 1 gathers steam early on via the tremolo-infused, midtempo choogler “Protection” (as in, the lonely/vulnerable first-person protagonist needs some) and edgy confessional “Burning Bridges” which hearkens back to such gems as 1998’s “Drunken Angel” and 2001’s “Out of Touch.” Soon enough the swamp-funk rises up for “West Memphis,” Tony Joe White lending sinewy guitar and harp licks, Williams saucily declaring, “Don’t come around here and try to mess with us/’Cause that’s the way we do things in West Memphis.” (It’s one among several ironic lyrical moments for the album as well: the song’s about the West Memphis Three debacle.) And with “Foolishness” Williams paints the first of two masterpieces on the album: against a relentlessly pulsing bed of piano, bass and electric guitar that eventually builds to a show-stopping-worthy crescendo, the singer calls out all the “liars and fearmongers” who promote non-stop “foolishness” then vows “to stand my ground… What I do in my own time/ Is none of your business and all of mine.” She could in fact be talking about people intruding into her personal life, but in the larger, songwriter-as-universalist sense, she’s talking about intolerance, bigotry and the politics of hate. The Libertarian party oughta adopt it as their war cry.

One CD change later, we’re at the other masterpiece, “Something Wicked This Way Comes,” a growling, drawling, mewling, purring slice of Texas-goes-to-Memphis ‘tude (yep, that’s Tony Joe once again on git-tar) that is imbued with such a saucy, sexy swagger you almost miss the fact that it’s Williams in tent-revival preacher mode:

“Something wicked this way comes

The likes of which you’ve never known

Hellfire and brimstone…

You will fall from grace

And you may never see his face

He was cast out of heaven

Something wicked this way comes.”

The album closes with a serene reading of JJ Cale’s “Magnolia,” its lone cover and as genuine a denouement as one could desire following such a tempestuous, nearly two-hour assignation. Significantly, the album also opened with a semi-cover, “Compassion,” a lyrical adaptation of her father Miller Williams’ poem that he read at Bill Clinton’s second inauguration; it’s a gentle acoustic number that helps ease the listener into what turns into a wild, rollicking, rollercoaster two-hour ride.

You’ll want to get on that ride again immediately after.

DOWNLOAD: “Something Wicked This Way Comes,” “Foolishness,” “Protection,” “Walk On”

UNCONSCIOUS COLLECTIVE – Pleistocene Moon LP

Album: Pleistocene Moon

Artist: Unconscious Collective

Label: Tofu Carnage

Release Date: September 16, 2014

UC 2

www.tofucarnage.com

BY FRED MILLS

Everything about this atavistic outfit—the moniker, album title and label name; the splatter/explosion colored vinyl of the two LPs; the ritualistic portraits of the three members making them look like some hirsute jungle tribe in full warpaint; and of course the skronky, jazzy, punk-improv music they emit—suggests violence and upheaval, a journey upstream into the heart of darkness. Not for nothing did filmmakers Ginger Berry and Fabian Aguirre title a documentary about the band Raw Material: the Unconscious Collective is the sound of an open, oozing wound.

UC 3

It’s a good hurt, though. This notion is in full evidence on numbers like the blistering “Methane Rising,” in which a guest sax player joins guitarist Gregg Prickett and the Stefan-Aaron Gonzalez rhythm section (drums and bass, respectively) for a Zorn-esque free-for-all, and the pounding Prog-jazz blowout titled, appropriately enough, “The Transformation of Matter” (the group has been compared to Mahavishnu Orchestra and King Crimson, and rightly so).

Yet there’s still something strangely calming at the core of Pleistocene Moon. Early on, in the track “Tribe Apart,” a frenetic segment gradually gives way to elegant fretboard frissons and, ultimately, a gentle bass-led denouement. Later, in the lengthy “Kotsoteka” we hear the trio settle into a pulsing groove that, while “heavy” in the sense of volume, is so expertly devised from a dynamics point of view that it has a droning hypnotic effect upon the listener. These guys know how to read the star charts as they kick into interstellar overdrive.

 

Shifting gears at will and turning on the proverbial dime, Unconscious Collective makes their chaos sound easy, pushing the listener relentlessly until he or she bleeds (or suffocates)—but don’t try this at home, kids, ‘cos most municipalities have strict ordinances forbidding it! The band lives in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, so one imagines the musicians decamping to somewhere out in the surrounding desert in order to do their sonic conjuring. Pity the poor clueless traveler who comes upon the ritual by chance some moonless night…

DOWNLOAD: “The Transformation of Matter,” “Kotsoteka”

 

 

Hotter Than a Match Head: Life on the Run with the Lovin’ Spoonful, by Steve Boone & Tony Moss

Title: Hotter Than a Match Head: Life on the Run with the Lovin' Spoonful

Author: Steve Boone & Tony Moss

Publisher: ECW Press

Publication Date: August 12, 2014

Boone Book 8-12

www.ecwpress.com

BY TIM HINELY

The Lovin Spoonful had a helluva run in the mid-late ‘60s. They had nine Top 20 singles (seven of which were in the Top 10). Here, in full detail of the times, is the book by Lovin Spoonful bassist Steve Boone and Tony Moss.

Boone begins with his early days, as a kid growing up in Westhampton Beach, NY and then following his older brother, who was a musician himself, into bands. Then there’s a chance meeting a Greenwich Village hotel room where he will meet his soon-to-be band mates John Sebastian (from the NYC folk scene) and Zal Yanovsky (a Canadian ex-pat). Then finding drummer Joe Butler (the ladies man of the group, apparently) and voila, the Lovin’ Spoonful were born.

The band then had a meteoric rise but life at the top would only last a few years as personality conflicts and the stress of a bust in San Francisco that included Boone and Yanovsky which tore the band apart (Boone gets to finally tell his side of the story in which he and Yanovsky were considered finks about the music community, especially on the west coast, but as Boone tells it, they really had no other choice but to go along with the authorities).

After the band broke up Boone ended up in Florida on a sailboat (that’s a whole other story) while still occasionally playing music. After a descent into drugs Boone then begins life as a drug smuggler on a different boat, gets busted, does some time and still has a wicked drug habit that he’s struggling to break. He falls in a love a few times and by the time marriage number three rolls around (to a woman who thinks she’s a mermaid) he realizes something’s not working.

Only after deciding to reform the Lovin Spoonful (without John Sebastian’s blessing at first but he eventually comes around) with Joe Butler, Jerry Yester (who had taken Yanovsky’s place when he left the band in its original incarnation) and a few others, including Yester’s daughter Lena who Boone eventually falls for (despite a 32 years age difference) and they end up getting married (and remain so to this day).

Whew. It’s a wild ride and Boone’s has some serious storytelling talents (and got himself into some hairy situations). Also, readers will glad he was able to finally get clean from drugs as he seemed to be in a sad, vicious cycle. Despite his misgivings, he’s a good guy at heart who you really want to cheer for.

He has some frustrations by the book’s end about the ‘Spoonful, despite being in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, never really getting their proper due and I agree. They were a terrific pop band who for a few years were on top of the world and despite not having a classic album in their catalog (no Pet Sounds or Sgt,. Peppers) the band were top notch players who wrote great songs. To me, that’s enough and Hotter Than a Match Head tells it all in bright, colorful fashion. I mean, we all believe in magic, right?

 

 

 

PIETA BROWN – Paradise Outlaw

Album: Paradise Outlaw

Artist: Pieta Brown

Label: Red House

Release Date: September 30, 2014

Pieta Brown 9-30

www.redhouserecords.com

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

Pieta Brown is one of those well-travelled troubadours who has often been either taken for granted or simply overshadowed by her famous father, singer/songwriter Greg Brown. That’s despite a dozen years of making music and various releases that affirmed a rapid ascent. Hopefully though that neglect will be part of the past once Paradise Outlaw gets the hearing it so certainly deserves. It’s not only one of the best folk discs in recent memory, but it’s also an album so singular in style that it may indeed raise the bar for all who follow in her wake.

That’s not to say that somehow Brown has runs amuck; to the contrary, she spins a melodious MO, unfolding each song at a slow but steady pace, remaining sweetly seductive and coolly confident with a decidedly fragile finesse. With the exception of the stealth-like “Heading Home” and the darkly foreboding “Letter in Hand,” there’s no wavering in that calming embrace; indeed that gentle gait remains wholly undeterred. Her soulful duet with Amos Lee on “Do You Know?” qualifies as the best of the bunch, but the sweet intonation of “Ricochet,” “Flowers of Love” and “Painter’s Hands” makes comparisons moot and unnecessary. Each of these 14 tracks is capable of quickly getting under the skin and then resonating within that supple stance.

Similar in many ways to the earliest outings by, say, Joni Mitchell or Emmylou Harris, Paradise Outlaw easily qualifies as one for the ages. It’s simply that good.

 DOWNLOAD: “Do You Know,” “Ricochet,” “Flowers of Love”

LEE GAMBLE — KOCH

Album: KOCH

Artist: Lee Gamble

Label: Pan

Release Date: September 16, 2014

Lee Gamble 9-16

http://p-a-n.org

BY JENNIFER KELLY

Strange three dimensional landscapes construct and deconstruct themselves , with landmarks taking almost-recognizable shape then disappearing into the fog. Some sounds zoom in and out of focus, like metallic insects swooping in to dive-bomb your face, while others hover weightlessly just at the edge of perception. With KOCH, London electronicist Lee Gamble explores the pulse and texture of sounds that may refer obliquely to the universe around us, but don’t exactly replicate them.

Gamble got his start in jungle, rave and techno, a influence you can hear in the insistent four-four knocking that undergirds “Motor System” ( and, later, “Caudata”). In “Motor System,” a bang-bang-bang-bang cadence hammers halfway through the track before splitting into a shadow-tricked fracture, so that upbeat echoes fall milliseconds away from the main rhythm, reinforcing it but also calling it into question. That’s kind of the way with this album – the sounds that seem most real and certain disintegrate as you listen to them, while the ones that might be an illusion drift into proximity, obscuring all else.

You have the sense of machines running amok, while a lone human operator loses himself in daydreams, or perhaps the machine itself spins fantasies. “You Concrete” begins in a freeway roar, the howl of noise gradually subsumed by more cogitative melodics. “What you’ve got is an old, miserable subculture,” someone says in the album’s only decipherable verbiage, and a clash and grind of metro trains pulling into a station is overlayered with an aurora borealis of shifting tone.

“Head Motel”’s interplay of inchoate sound clouds and neurotic patter and tap is like anxiety wandering through a meditator’s self-calming mantra. “Fame Drag” implies threat. You might envision iron doors shutting, the shiver of uncertainty, the reassurance of hope in a series of sounds that don’t so much resemble real life as recall it out of a Rorscharch blotch.

Issues? Maybe “Jovelayup” goes on too long, its freight train clatter punctuated by steam-blast upbeats, its relentless momentum rattling through densifying and thinning banks of sound. Maybe none of these tracks sound the way I hear them. Maybe they aren’t meant to refer to anything, but rather exist in their own technological space, one electronic component speaking to another, with Lee Gamble presiding over an unreal, utterly engrossing world.

DOWNLOAD: “Motor System,” “Fame Drag,” “Head Motel”

 

 

DEANNA BOGART—Just A Wish Away…

Album: Just A Wish Away...

Artist: Deanna Bogart

Label: Blind pig

Release Date: June 24, 2014

Deanna Bogert 6-24

www.blindpig.com

BY TOM CALLAHAN

After honing her craft and leading her own band for over two decades, Deanna Bogart has become one of the greatest musicians and songwriters working in America today. She proves this in her ability to grow and create new musical paths on each album. She just keeps getting stronger each time out. Her latest Bling Pig release–Just A Wish Away… chronicles a yearlong personal and musical journey from Nashville to the high desert of Southern California to the Louisiana Bayou, where the album was recorded. It is a very good CD.

When you first encounter Bogart, the word that comes to mind is virtuosity. She is an excellent piano player but also excels on sax. Indeed, she captured Blues Music Award for three consecutive years for her horn work and was honored another year for her piano playing. She calls her sound “blusion.” Just as she defies simple categorization as a musician, so too does her music capture a lot of different genres: blues, country, jazz, swing, boogie woogie, even standards.

On Just A Wish Away… that musical diversity becomes clear on the first track—“If It’s Going to Be Like This”—as the first discordant piano notes gives way to a country swing sound. Or listen to the horn driven jazz sound of “Collarbone.” She ends the album with the classic “Bye, Bye Blackbird” that starts out as something you might hear a New Orleans’s marching band perform.

Bogart is the real deal; it is not just her playing, but her songwriting that has matured to the point of greatness. Her writing is full of life in all its joy and sadness. Listen to a sad and slow country tinged song like “ If You Have Crying Eyes” and you can feel the true emotion, where she sings, “Oh, the night is a river where the lonely are drowned.” Contrast that with the swamp swing of “Fine By Me Good Bayou” where, on the video, Bogart leads a great horn section and takes a sax solo herself atop a bar. You can see the pure joy in her eyes and her sound. This is fun.

All of this adds up to Just A Wish Away… being one of the best albums of 2014. But Deanna Bogart has accomplished something even better here, if possible. Like a jazz artist, she is not afraid to be creative and follow her muse wherever it takes her. And in the process her music has become transcendent as only the greatest artists can make it. Her music has the ability to actually give you hope when precious little hope remains and give you joy when you need it most. She can both reflect the darkness around us and dispel it on the same CD. That is something only a true artist can do.

DOWNLOAD: “Fine By Me Good Bayou” “Collarbone” “If You Have Crying Eyes”

 

 

 

LAETITIA SADIER – Something Shines

Album: Something Shines

Artist: Laetitia Sadier

Label: Drag City

Release Date: September 23, 2014

Sadier 9-23

www.dragcity.com

BY TIM HINELY

Maybe Laetitia Sadier should blow all of our minds and release a folk record? Stranger things have happened and it’s not like the former Stereolab vocalist is in rut, but I must say, when I hear Something Shines (or her two previous solo records) it sounds like I’m listening to a Stereolab record and that band group disbanded a few years ago — and seemed to be in a rut on its last few records.

Something Shines was recorded in both Switzerland and London with a host of friends in and around Europe and the record and like all records that Sadier is involved with, the lyrics are both heady and political. Opening with the spacey “Quantum Soup” the record then bubbles along and doesn’t really take off until the soaring 5th track, the aptly named “Release From the Center of Your Heart” which seems like a exultant rebirth for Sadier while the following cut, “Butter Side Up”, has a subtle yet lovely little melody.

These two tracks are the exception on Something Shines, I mean, sure, on Sadier (and to an extent, Stereolab) records long musical interludes of what were essentially droney, keyboard/organ parts were expected; but that being said, many of the songs on here just aren’t very memorable.

We all know that Sadier has the intelligence, drive and talent to make an excellent record. I hope she changes directions and blows our minds next time.

DOWNLOAD: “Release From the Center of Your Heart,” “Butter Side Up,” ”Life is Winning”

 

CONNECTIONS—Into Sixes

Album: Into Sixes

Artist: Connections

Label: Anyway

Release Date: August 19, 2014

Connections 8-19

http://connectionsband.tumblr.com/

BY JENNIFER KELLY

Connections, out of Columbus, makes a scrappy, fuzzy, irresistibly tuneful racket that will remind you of other Ohio bands, specifically Guided by Voices and Times New Viking (with whom they share a drummer in Adam Elliot). These are short, sweet, distortion-crusted pop songs, which, even crusted with rust and diesel stains, have a distinctly fresh-faced, optimistic sound.

The references for Connections are necessarily lo-fi, but while these songs aren’t fussed over, they are not sloppy in any sense. All five members of Connections play with a tightly focused exuberance, like they’ve been playing together forever (and indeed, founders Andy Hampel and Kevin Elliot have been playing together since the 1990s, first with 84 Nash and now with Connections). There’s a slacker drawl in songs like “Apt. by the Interstate,” but that’s a front; everyone is hitting their marks and making their notes.

Maybe the best song, the one that matches raffish heart and racket to glorious melody the most effortlessly, is “Beat the Sky,” an ear-worm-y tune that exudes the sincerest joy. It’s always hard to quantify why great rock songs kill, but let’s just put it this way: A rock song hasn’t made me this happy since the Soft Pack’s “Pull Out,” or maybe the Replacement’s “Can’t Hardly Wait.” But really, the whole album is a pleasure. If you haven’t given up on guitar rock yet, if you still feel the hairs on your neck lifting at a roughshod, hard-strummed melody, then you need to check out Into Sixes.

DOWNLOAD: “Beat the Sky”

 

 

THE YOUNG – Chrome Cactus LP

Album: Chrome Cactus

Artist: The Young

Label: Matador

Release Date: August 26, 2014

The Young

www.matadorrecords.com

BY FRED MILLS

In this life there are three types of rock records: the kind that smacks you hard right off the bat but soon loses its impact and gets filed away (or, more likely, traded in); the kind that takes a few spins to start to sink in and gradually grows on you (we call these “sleepers”); and the kind that smacks you hard and then, against all odds, just gets better and better every time you play it and you wind up forcing all your friends to listen to it with you (they then start to cross to the other side of the street when they see you coming, but you get the idea).

Chrome Cactus, by an innovative young quartet from Austin called The Young, falls into the latter category. Self-described (accurately, too) by the band as influenced by “pedal-stompers worldwide,” The Young does indeed put the pedal to the metal, and with Tim Green of The Fucking Champs producing, the octane level is dangerously high. From the dirty-ass whunggg of opening track “Metal Flake” (given the foregoing context, there’s a songtitle that should tell you something about the band) and the sturdy motorific-bordering-on-motorik throb of “Cry of Tin” through the glam-slam anthemism of “Ramona Cruz” and the interstellar overdrive rawk that is the delightfully titled “Blow The Scum Away,” these dudes know just when to goose the gas and when to hit the brakes. Images of vintage shoegaze and stoner rock bands dance maddeningly on the eyelids while Chrome Cactus is blowing free—one minute you think “Swervedriver,” the next “Fun Manchu”—but in the final estimation, this band’s as unique and visceral as they come.

Get your motor runnin’ and head out on the highway, lads. I’ll have my thumb poked out…

DOWNLOAD: “Blow the Scum Away,” “Metal Flake,” “Ramona Cruz”

ELVIN BISHOP—Can’t Even Do Wrong Right

Album: Can't Even Do Wrong Right

Artist: Elvin Bishop

Label: Alligator

Release Date: August 19, 2014

Elvin Bishop 8-19

www.alligator.com

BY TOM CALLAHAN

Few artists deserve the title legendary. But Elvin Bishop is legendary. And a half century as a musician, his latest album on Alligator–Can’t Even Do Wrong Right–shows Bishop the height of his powers as a musician, songwriter, and slide guitarist. Bishop tells us on the CD: “Now I’m 71 and still having fun…Enjoy yourself. It’s later than you think.”

Indeed it is. Bishop has had an incredible career. While in college in Chicago, he started learning the blues from the masters in the small ghetto bars. His first gig was with Junior Wells in 1962. He made history when he became a charter member of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band in 1963. That band introduced electrified Chicago blues to kids across the country and their album East/West in 1966 is still one of the greatest rock/blues albums ever made. But Bishop was just starting. With his bandmate, Michael Bloomfield, they pioneered the idea of twin lead guitars in a band, thus laying the foundation of Southern rock before the Allman Brothers. That is Bishop playing with the Allmans at the Fillmore in 1971. Bishop’s Southern rock period in the 1970s included the monster hit from 1976, “Fooled Around and Fell in Love.” Eventually, he settled in Northern California and cut over 20 albums, including several acclaimed albums for Alligator that brought him back to his blues roots.

Can’t Even Do Wrong Right is classic Elvin Bishop. With five original songs, it showcases his ability to write songs that can make you smile while telling you a funny “everyman” story. It is a perfect example of what Bishop calls “electrified front porch blues.” And he is still one of the greatest slide players in the world as he proves on Jimmy Reed’s “Honest I Do.” On “Old School” Bishop is joined by another legend, harmonica player Charlie Musselwhite. The CD is worth the price just to hear these two blues veterans trade riffs. Another highlight is Bishop’s reunion with Mickey Thomas, the ex-Jefferson Starship singer, who handled vocals on “Fooled Around and Fell in Love.” “Let Your Woman Have Her Way” is their first recording together since the 1970s hit that was all over the airwaves back then; it was hard to walk down the street back then without hearing the tune.

In short, Can’t Even Do Wrong Right is an essential album. It will please the most diehard Bishop fan while also serving as an entryway to his music for new fans. We are lucky that Elvin Bishop is still having fun with music. It means that we all can as well.

DOWNLOAD: “Can’t Even Do Wrong Right” Old School” Let You Woman Have Her Way”