Monthly Archives: October 2014

JEFFREY DEAN FOSTER – The Arrow

Album: The Arrow

Artist: Jeffrey Dean Foster

Label: Angel Skull

Release Date: November 04, 2014

Jeffrey Foster Arrow CD

www.jeffreydeanfoster.com

BY FRED MILLS

Anybody who’s followed Winston-Salem, NC, songwriter Jeffrey Dean Foster’s career to date—particularly if they were fortunate enough to hear him back in the ‘80s during his tenure with the almost-grabbed-the-brass-ring Right Profile—is in for a shock when they hear this album. I don’t mean “artist takes an unexpected stylistic detour” kind of shock; as with the RP and subsequent outfits the Carneys and the Pinetops, Foster still specializes in power pop-tinged Americana, with obvious reference points being Springsteen, Petty and McGuinn. But this is the kind of record that can stop you in your tracks it’s so good. Nothing, I mean nothing, he’s done before comes close to the songcraft and musicianship displayed on The Arrow, recorded with Mitch Easter at Easter’s Fidelitorium and featuring a roster of remarkable musicians that includes Easter’s old studio cohort Don Dixon on bass, John Pfiffner and Easter on guitars, Brian Landrum on drums, Tres Chicas’ Lynn Blakey and Tonya Lamm on backing vocals and Blakey’s husband Ecki Heins on strings.

Foster notched significant press kudos with 2006’s Million Star Hotel, and rightly so; that record’s downcast vibe yet uplifting affect cast a lasting emotional glow. It’s clear now, though, that it and the earlier, equally fine The Leaves Turn Upside Down were mere preludes. Throughout The Arrow there’s a profound sense of how emotions can suffuse every waking hour and pierce us—like arrows, to be sure—to our core.

One song in particular stands out, “The Sun Will Shine Again,” so aglow with musical grace and lyrical optimism that it never fails to chase the proverbial clouds away for me no matter what kind of shitty day I may have been having. It improbably stacks a succession of what I call “little moments”: from a Fleetwood Mac-esque intro that beds a rippling tremolo guitar lick atop a delicate piano melody, through an Everlys-worth “ooo-oooh” harmony vocal interlude and a glorious, parting-of-the-heavens climax, to the final, elegant ballet of a guitar solo that serves as the song’s denouement. The result is that same bring-you-to-your-knees feeling that certain songs prompt—the Byrds’ 12-string fueled “Chestnut Mare,” for example, or Laura Nyro’s grandly soaring “And When I Die,” or perhaps even the Flamin’ Groovies’ boisterously exuberant “Shake Some Action.” Lyrically, there’s a serene whiff of déjà vu as Foster subtly invokes Springsteen, Patti Smith, R.E.M. and the Walker Brothers:

 

“Won’t you drive to the river tonight with me

Down by the old piss factory

We’ll jump in and pretend

Won’t you drive to the river tonight with me…

The sun will shine again on your dark days

All the pain will burn and blow away

Yeah, the sun will shine again on your dark days.”

 

The rest of the album is no less memorable. It’s clearly patterned as a song cycle with a specific beginning, middle and end rather than just a collection of smartly-sequenced but unconnected tunes; for example, the final track quotes directly from the first one, while acoustic interlude “I Will Understand” contains lyrical and melodic references to the earlier “When You Break.” Musically, there’s raucous, Stones-styled riff rock (“Life Is Sweet”), folky introspection (“The Arrow”), subtly baroque piano-pop (“The Lucky One”) and blazing power pop (“Young Tigers Disappear”), all abetted by a crafty deployment of melodic hooks and intuitive, mature arrangements. There’s also an intriguing, brief, hidden track that serves as a coda at the end of the album.

Throughout, Foster sings, in his trademark high tenor, of missed chances and wistful wanderings, of the uncertainties that accompany the vicissitudes of aging while still taking heed of that eternal teenager that still resides somewhere inside him—and by extension, the rest of us. “I get this feeling, not like before,” he confesses, in one tune, “that what comes down the road is alright. It’s like believing in an open door, and you step on through into some new light.” Yet, although there is optimism to be found here, the fact that the record begins with a brash swagger on “Life is Sweet” but concludes on a far less cocky note (in closing track “The Arrow” he wonders “if I’m the arrow, then who’s the bow?”) suggests that Foster, like so many great songwriters before him, grasps the inevitable impermanence of life and the situations we find ourselves in.

(Aside: it’s perhaps worth noting, too, that Foster shows his hand, ever so subtly, as a lifelong student of rock at various points. Early on, in “Life Is Sweet,” he advises everyone to “stop breaking down,” in what might be—given the tune’s structure—an Exile On Main Street nod. Likewise, the aforementioned “Piss Factory” and “The River” allusions can hardly be coincidental. There are other little sonic and lyrical “easter eggs” to be found here and there on the album that make it a delight to scrutinize.)

For folks who like their songwriting sharp and their sonics sublime, this is the album you’ve been waiting for. And for fans of classic Southern pop—dB’s, Let’s Active, Connells, R.E.M. of course—it’s a gift of epic proportions that’ll rekindle all that jangle lust you’ve kept tucked away in your hearts these many years. I keep listening to it trying to find flaws or loose threads only to detect none, even after, I dunno, 30 listens. There have even been moments when it’s literally taken my breath away. Mark my words, this five-out-of-five-stars album will be on more than a few best-of lists come 2014’s end, including mine.

DOWNLOAD: “The Sun Will Shine Again,” “Life Is Sweet,” “The Lucky One”

 

 

 

NEW MODEL ARMY – Between Wine and Blood

Album: Between Wine and Blood

Artist: New Model Army

Label: E.A.R. Music/Eagle Rock Entertainment

Release Date: September 16, 2014

 

 New Model Army 9-16

www.eagle-rock.com

 By JOHN B. MOORE

Almost a year to the day that New Model Army released their fastest-selling album in two decades, the critically-lauded Between Dog and Wolf, the veteran Post Punk band is back with a new album. Between Wine and Blood is a six-song EP, packaged with an 11-song, second CD of live cuts recorded on their 2013 tour.

The second half of that tour was aborted as drummer Michael Dean was sidelined with blood clots in his leg. Taking advantage of the time off, the band record six-new songs to stave off boredom and keep the momentum rolling. The result is pretty impressive.

Unlike like many (most?) of their counterparts in the ‘80s, New Model Army actually improved with age, not hitting their musical stride until the late ‘90s/early aughts, and one or two albums aside, continues to put out some of their best music. Between the Wine and Blood, is in lock step with last year’s release; Swirling, Gothic guitars and slow burn vocals. The band’s not treading new ground here, because there’s really no need for it.

The live record, comprised solely of songs off the last full length, is a good prelude for what fans can expect as the band finally gets back on the road, covering ground in Europe throughout the rest of the year.

 DOWNLOAD: “According to You” and “Sunrise”

 

WAX WITCHES — Centre of Your Universe

Album: Centre of Your Universe

Artist: Wax Witches

Label: Burger

Release Date: September 23, 2014

Wax Witches 9-23

http://burgerrecords.11spot.com/

BY JENNIFER KELLY

Alex Wall’s Wax Witches plays bratty, snarky, insanely catchy pop punk, with a shot of sci-fi psych in this second solo full-length. Wall comes from Australia, where his bright but abrasive beer can summer anthems would fit right in with bands like Royal Headache and UV Race, but he lives in Brooklyn now, bringing a nervy edge to his tunes.

“Summer Suckers” is maybe the best and certainly the punkest of these brash, bristly tunes, with its slashing power chords, its reverb-shrouded shouts and giddy “woo-ooh-ooh-oohs.” It’s a feel-good, sing-along for disaffected youth. “Social Introvert,” the other single, is angstier, bubbling over with synth tones, scrabbling manically on jittery guitars, but still eminently hummable. Elsewhere, Wall opens the sound out into psychedelic drone, as on expansive “Sertonin” and the shoegazing blur of “Twenty Seven.” The harder hitting songs sound like glam-punk, think Apache and Impediments, while the hazier, soft-focus ones evoke West Coast lo-fi outfits like Ty Segall and the Meatbodies.

Wall spends a lot of time thinking about 1970s-style rock excess, dedicating one song to dead icons (“Twenty Seven”), another to excessive fandom (“Your Not My Idol” spelling his) and a third to scenesters and hangers-on (“Poser”). He’s funniest, though, when he flies closest to reality, describing his girlfriend, eating salad when he wants a burrito, going shopping when he wants to watch wrestling. But mostly it is Wall’s way with a tune that wins you over. Half a dozen songs are ear-worming, a couple including “Social Introvert” and “Summer Suckers” are downright indelible. Great for fun, if not for deep scrutiny.

DOWNLOAD: “Social Introvert,” “Summer Suckers”

 

Neil & Pegi Young’s Bridge School Benefit in Mountain View, CA, Oct. 26

Dates: October 26, 2014

Location: Mountain View, CA

Bridge Benefit

The recent bulletin that the Youngs are separating has no effect on their pet project, the always talent-loaded, annual multi-artist Bridge School Benefit concert.

By Jud Cost

The San Francisco bay area climate in late October is a little like what they say about Chicago: If you don’t like the weather, wait around for 15 minutes, it may change. Over the years of attending Neil & Pegi Young’s Bridge School Benefit at Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View, Calif. we’ve sat through stifling heat, chilly winds, an occasional deluge and the nice kind of autumn day you remember as a kid, with burning corn stalks blowing in from the San Joaquin Valley blended with the smoke from your dad’s cigar. A brisk wind was gusting in the parking lot today, but inside the arena, the pointy, bra-like stage roof covering diverted it to somewhere else.

As always, Neil Young wanders onstage at 2:00 pm Sunday to kick things off. “Some of the oldest people in the bay area may be here, but we all started somewhere,” he says, cryptically. Then he hoists his acoustic for a perfect little set made up of “Sugar Mountain” and “On The Way Home,” a Buffalo Springfield classic. Always a good thing to see Neil right away, since, being one of those old people he just mentioned, there’s never any guarantee of making it to the 10:00 pm finish line of this marathon event to see him play the day’s final set.

Pegi Young & the Survivors deliver a razor-sharp set of country-rock with no help from Neil this year. The two recently announced their marital separation, but thankfully, the annual Bridge School Benefit concert was not among the collateral damage. One oddity here, as Neil’s voice creeps a little higher into the ozone over the years, Pegi’s seems to have become lower, and stronger. “Starting over,” she says pointedly after thanking keyboardist Spooner Oldham for writing one of her tunes. The entire set comes from her new album, due out tomorrow. Publicity will trump marital strife every time.

The rich harmonies and smart songwriting of Band Of Horses are next on the dance card with a set that sounds a little like the Avett Brothers if they’d grown up in Seattle rather than tobacco country. Frontman Ben Bridwell has gone through a couple of football teams worth of personnel over the past ten years, but the result is always one of the most satisfying indie-rock outfits on the scene. Their finale was thrilling with the words, “I could sleep” being the repeated motif.  As Bridwell expresses gratitude for the warm reception, he warns the crowd, “After Tom Jones plays, better watch your step. There’ll be lots of underpants lying around.”

Norah Jones fronts a trio based in Brooklyn billed as Puss N Boots that also includes Sasha Dobson and Catherine Popper. The ladies seem a bit lethargic until the last two numbers of their short set. Maybe they are put off by the small airplane from Palo Alto airport that keeps buzzing the stage. But they seem to shake the cobwebs for a song described by Jones as, “written by Tom Paxton about bull-riders, at least I think that’s what it’s about. We are going for that PG13 sound,” she winks. Then they bring the house down with a well targeted, agonizingly slow version of Neil Young’s “Down By The River” as the sun begins to tumble into the Pacific Ocean, some 15 miles to the west.

To those who may remember the best of Seattle’s grunge scene of 25 years ago (Mudhoney, Nirvana, Pearl Jam) the name Soundgarden may send a chill through a body still recovering from the sonic onslaught of those days. And the vision that still remains does not bring to mind acoustic guitars. But stripped of their ear-pummeling Marshall stacks—this is supposed to be an acoustic event—the northwesterners are surprisingly listenable, more goth and Black Sabbath than grunge. “Seems kinda sparse down here, usually the signal for people to come on down,” smirks singer Chris Cornell, pointing out a few choice empty seats. “Don’t send me no distant salutations/Don’t leave me alone in the twilight,” a Shawn Colvin country-rock lyric, works just as well for the flannel-flying crowd now entering the last stages of middle-age. “It was good to see Pearl Jam again,” says Cornell. “We haven’t worked together for a long time. And Tom Jones is my new best friend.”

Before Tom Jones completes his high-voltage set, he’ll be everybody’s new best friend. He was easily the highlight of the evening, judging by the small army that marched to the parking lot after the loveable Welshman had performed his magic. “There will be some songs you’ve heard before and some you have not,” he says affably. Then he attacks his opener with the zeal of a revivalist preacher. “This is my first time here for the Bridge School,” says Jones, wowed by the crowd reaction, “but it won’t be my last, God willing,”

Looking very dapper in a silver-grey sports jacket and black mock turtleneck, Jones breaks into a stellar re-working of his first smash from 1965, “It’s Not Unusual.” The former Vegas arrangement has been tweaked to add elements of zydeco, such as the accordion. “We recorded that in November of 1964,” recalls Jones. “It still sounds good, and next month it’ll be 50 years old—amazing because I’m only 38!”

After a few more items from Cajun country, Jones dips back into his armload of hit singles. “We wrote a lot of things in the ’70s that were dark,” he suggests, as he breaks into the best of the bunch. “My, my, my, Delilah!” he croons with enough electrical energy to give Hoover Dam the day off. “She stood there laughing/I felt the knife in my hand and she laughed no more.” Jones grins broadly as he reminisces about playing Vegas for the same hotel as Elvis Presley. “We’d go up to Elvis’ suite, and he’d sing the music he loved most: gospel music.” In between numbers, Jones slipped something tiny into his mouth. “Developed by a Welsh doctor,” he says secretively. “If it was good enough for Caruso, it’s good enough for me.” The great man pretty much sums up his irrepressible style. “I was born with the gift of a golden voice,” he says, humbly. And by now, he’s just about become the Welsh equivalent of Tony Bennett.

Brian Wilson takes the stage next with fellow Beach Boy Al Jardine in tow, backed by the same dynamite combo that toured extensively with his Pet Sounds and Smile revivals over the last five years. Darian Sahanaja, formerly of the Wondermints, is now at the helm of Wilson’s band, and he sings lead on “Darlin,'” formerly performed by Brian’s younger brother Carl, who died in 1998. Possibly due to the chilly evening, Brian actually hits a couple of rare vocal clunkers early, seated behind his keyboard, but he pulls it back together well before the last echo of “Fun, Fun, Fun” has reverberated down the rocky canyon toward the golf course. The short-set nature of Bridge School Benefit means this will be a fat-free version of the Beach Boys’ best, that includes “California Girls,” “God Only Knows,” “Do You Wanna Dance,” “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” “Sloop John B,” “I Get Around” and “Help Me Rhonda” (with Jardine on lead vocal, as he was on the original single version). And with Thanksgiving fast approaching, it serves as the perfect dessert for Tom Jones’ succulent roast turkey.

I throw myself on the mercy of the court, once again. We did not stay for the last three sets by Florence and the Machine, Pearl Jam and Neil Young, himself, due to creaky bones and a sore posterior. But when October 2015 rolls around, just like Tom Jones, we too will be coming back to this bay area institution. God willing.

 

 

 

CHURCHWOOD – Churchwood 3: Trickgnosis

Album: Churchwood 3: Trickgnosis

Artist: Churchwood

Label: Saustex Media

Release Date: September 16, 2014

Churchwood 9-16

www.facebook.com/pages/Saustex/182900891731

http://www.saustexmedia.com/

BY FRED MILLS

Arrr-OOOO!!! Not since Dr. John commenced his night trippin’ has there been a set of voodoo-blooze rawk quite so brilliantly primal as the third platter from Austin’s Churchwood. Check this little excerpt from hypnotic anthem “Eminence Gris Gris,” which invokes the ghosts of New Orleans:

“He coming down Bourbon, he struttin’ all the way to Marigny

He got a cane and a turban, a little juju for the enemy

He got a sack full of mojo, a John the Conquer root, a marigold

He got a friend in Coco Robicheaux, the Loup Garou, and the cat bone

He the Eminence Gris Gris, he come gunning for the faux”

 Other snippets from Howlin’ Wolf-channeling singer Joe Doerr funnel their way disturbingly deep into the psyche: “holla petunia with your rope-a-dope spine” (now that is some come-on for the ladies); “I spit you out into the lukewarm billabong” (consider yo’self dissed); “I split my wealth by means of stealth and I made a triptych of myself” (uh… right!).

Which would be apropos of nothing ‘tweren’t it for the musical goods that Doerr’s compatriots—guitarists Bill Anderson and Billysteve Korpi, bassist Adam Kahan, drummer Julien Peterson— serve up. From the fractured/dissonant stutter-stomp waltz that is “Shake the Vine” and the sinewy Zeppelin-goes-Beefheart rocker “Hanged Man” to rawhide-textured faux-spaghetti western epic “Drapeatomaniac” and the unbridled punk romp of “Chemtrailer Trash,” the C-wood lads display their agility at inhabiting multiple genres (sometimes several at once) and ability to shift gears at the flick of an unfiltered butt. It was no coincidence that Churchwood was invited to perform at BLURT’s annual SXSW day party this year as well as last year; we generally prefer to have different artists each year so as not to appear to be playing favorites, but were so blown away in 2013 that it was almost a foregone conclusion we had to see ‘em a second time. Me, I’ll be front and center whenever I have the chance to catch Churchwood live. Meanwhile, this record’ll be keeping me warm….

DOWNLOAD: “Eminence Gris Gris,” “Hanged Man,” “I Spit You Out”

Churchwood-2-418x500

HOLY SONS – The Fact Facer

Album: The Fact Facer

Artist: Holy sons

Label: Thrill Jockey

Release Date: September 23, 2014

Holy Sons 9-23

www.thrilljockey.com

BY JOHN SCHACHT

Emil Amos began musical life as an outlier to the outlier-friendly ‘90s, and hasn’t yet joined the herd. Operating under the Holy Sons moniker for his solo material, Amos writes, performs and self-records druggy dirges – sometimes with Middle Eastern flourishes, occasionally in a jazzy vein — over which his sleepy vocals deliver brutally honest self-analyses.

Holy Sons’ narratives may plumb the darker angels of human frailty, obsolescence, paranoia, addiction and self-loathing, but there’s an undercurrent of humor – and just plain stubborn endurance — that lightens the mood just enough to keep you from wrapping the noose around your neck. (“Do you have a complication that I don’t need?” Amos deadpans on “I’m Healed” from 2006’s Decline of the West.)

Amos really does embrace the mantra “four-track therapy,” and his songs often feel they first took shape on a psychologist’s couch. But over the years Holy Sons has evolved from its rudimentary lo-fi roots into a more sophisticated musical outlet, much as like-minded artists Bill Callahan, Will Oldham or Raymond Raposa have done. (Amos has also worked with Om and Jandek and was a founding member of Grails and Lilacs & Champagne.)

The Fact Facer (Thrill Jockey) doesn’t alter the thematic equation; Amos still sees himself as a head case from the opener “Doomed Myself” on. The evidence resides in any random couplet picked from the new record: “Life could be a dream,” Amos sings on the song of the same name as guitar layers pile up and the tempo quickens, “so you can lie back and shuck, or wake up and scream, or rattle chains like me and limbo in between.”

Amos’ state of emotional limbo still defines the music; The Fact Facer’s songs, like most of their older cousins, linger comfortably in relaxed tempos and subtle arrangements. Where the new LP does differ from 2012’s Survivalist Tales! , for instance, is in the exaggerated use of effects —televangelists, insects and film stars drift like wandering ghosts through the LP. Those tape loops, along with rich layers of synth, feedback and incidental noise, coat everything in a gauzy, half-dreamt texture. The slick guitar lick at the center of “Transparent Powers” drifts in and out of focus like a narcotic buzz. Dreamy keys float over the deliberate beats and processed vocals on “Line Me Back Up” as the “years wash by.” The back end of “Selfish Thoughts,” whose Middle Eastern vibe recalls Amos’ instrumental rock Grails project, buries a droning guitar raga in a dust-storm of feedback.

The blended textures impress, but technique takes you only so far. Amos also delivers memorable melodies that provide solid foundation for the atmospherics to do their thing. The gorgeous piano-shaded number “All Too Free” recalls Callahan at his most melodic, “No Self Respect” ignites into an Oldham-like revival track from the Palace days, and the plodding giant-tempo of “Doomed Myself” has choruses beautiful enough to survive an onslaught of background noise worthy of Califone.

The bare-bones title track, which closes the LP, features Amos showing off his acoustic blues chops with some fine fret-work. The track harks back to Holy Sons early days, but now it’s the outlier – The Fact Facer is a nuanced, multi-leveled listen that stands with the best things Amos – and anyone covering similarly adventurous terrain — has done.
 DOWNLOAD: “Doomed Myself,” “All Too Free,” “Life Could Be a Dream”

The Deliverance of Marlowe Billings, by Dan Stuart

Title: The Deliverance of Marlowe Billings

Author: Dan Stuart

Publisher: Cadiz Music

Publication Date: October 02, 2014

Dan-Stuart-book-347x500

www.cadizmusic.co.uk

BY FRED MILLS

While billed as “a false memoir,” The Deliverance of Marlowe Billings (published by the book wing of Britain’s Cadiz Music) contains nary a bum note. Oh sure, author Dan Stuart, who steered proto-Americana rockers Green On Red throughout the college rock years and into the early alternative rock era until the band dissolved in a haze of drugs and diminishing artistic returns in the early ‘90s, does take frequent literary liberties throughout this often-provocative, sometimes-harrowing, consistently-entertaining 150-page volume. Practically everyone, from bandmembers to roadies to girlfriends to record company folks, is given a nom du rawk; for example, Stuart becomes the titular Marlowe Billings, his Green On Red cohort Chuck Prophet is “Billy” (no license there: GoR fans often referred to the guitar-slinging Prophet as “Billy the Kid”), and Memphis producer Jim Dickinson becomes “Bubba,” appropriately enough for the Southern sonic savant. Certain timelines and events get compressed or altered, presumably in the interest of narrative efficiency or poetic license; the sections featuring the aforementioned Bubba might appear to be detailing a recording session, but in fact Dickinson worked with GoR over the course of two albums, while the ’86 Farm Aid the band performed at is fancifully described here as “Cowboy Longhair’s festival to save the narwhals or something.”

None of that is off-putting, however. In fact, for a reader already familiar with the general Green On Red history, and certainly for fans who know the entire good/bad/ugly of that story (I fall into the latter category – for proof, go HERE to read my BLURT feature on the band), his “false memoir” aspect of the book is key to its appeal, rock fandom-wise. I mean, who needs another tired tale about a band that forms, catches a popularity wave, and rides it until the inevitable crash and damaged dissolution arrives, including the equally inevitable collateral damage that accrues in its wake? That’s 99.9% of rock groups anyway. So what Stuart has done is latched onto a means of making the story fresh, narrating from a matter-of-fact, unsentimental 1st person perspective (as any good memoir or autobiography must be narrated) and lending the yarn a kind of noir-ish sheen—that’s clear at the outset, with the hard-boiled moniker he gives himself—and following it through to his ultimate “deliverance,” in this case a serious drug addiction, precious few friends left, and a trip to a psychiatric facility.

Billings/Stuart provides some fascinating snapshots of the late ‘70s punk scene in Tucson, where he grew up and eventually formed The Serfers, later rechristened Green On Red when the band moved to L.A. to seek fame and fortune. (Intriguingly, Tucson landmarks such as local clubs and music gear shop the Chicago Store retain their real names for the book. It’s also worth noting that there are a number of actual archival snapshots included, many of them photos of the bandmembers.) Soon enough, the group’s star begins to rise as they record an album for the “Trash” label—that would be Slash Records—and then graduate to a succession of larger, better funded ones. Touring is initially a whirlwind of chaotic fun, at least until fissures emerge among the personalities to take their collective toll upon the band, which finally splits up, leaving Billings and Billy to work with hired hands. But by the time the concluding pages draw near, music has taken a distant back seat to drugs, the pair sometimes reduced to scoring dubious-quality dope from squirrelly street junkies. Billings is strung out at his own wedding; Billy overdoses in a hotel room and has to be slapped back to consciousness by Billings. Somehow they still manage to land record deals, record albums, and tour, but like with any good crime novel, you sense that these characters are on their own personal highways to hell.

Danny Stuart once told me, either during a phone conversation or down at the record store in Tucson where I worked during the ‘90s, that he was “not a recovering anything.” In the context of his then-recent history he meant that he didn’t necessarily subscribe to the 12-step philosophy, that he viewed himself as simply haven beaten his drug addiction while still taking full ownership of his weaknesses and all the shitty things he’d done over the years. More recently, in the foreword to Marlowe Billings he admits that he’s “not a particularly nice person,” adding, of the book, “There is no real plot because I refuse to put a false arc on these events in order to make it all digestible to middlebrow sludge. If you’re fine with all that then read on, friend, read on. If not, put the book down and pick up some other post-punk tale of sin and redemption. You’ll find none of that here, I promise.” (Emphasis Stuart’s.)

That’s for sure. It’s no coincidence that Keith Richards’ recent memoir was judged so entertaining by fans and critics: in refusing to give in to his own temptation for revisionist history, Richards came across as candid and honest, a tell-it-like-it-really-was kinda guy. Likewise, by steering clear of those sin/redemption clichés that mark most celebrity “survival” stories, Stuart has done the rock-lit world a favor. His warts-and-all (some would say, “syringe-and-all”) style of storytelling may seem excessively grim and depressing, but hey, sorry to break the news to ya kids, but rock ‘n’ roll is populated by a lot of losers, misfits, egomaniacs and outright sociopaths who’ve committed far worse crimes against kith and kin than Stuart. So next time you read one of those survival yarns in which the artist emerges from rehab at the end of the book and, having seen the light and the error of his/her ways, pledges to go out and make the world a better place, squint at it with a big side order of salt ‘cos they’re just reciting from a script and trust me, you’ve seen this movie before.

I’ll take a dose of deliverance over a routine redemption any day.

 

Lit Up Inside: Selected Lyrics, by Van Morrison

Title: Lit Up Inside: Selected Lyrics

Author: Van Morrison

Publisher: City Lights Books

Publication Date: October 02, 2014

Van Morrison book

www.citylights.com/publishing/

BY DENISE SULLIVAN

During San Francisco’s notoriously punishing, foggy summers, there are those who find it extremely necessary to leave city limits and seek sun. On most days, it can be found shining a few short miles from the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin County, known the world over for its rich hippie homes of ’60s and ’70s rock stars. Though several decades have come and gone since Marin’s hot tub, water bed and peacock-feathered days, no matter how many times I drive north, down the long stretch of Sir Francis Drake Boulevard and through San Anselmo toward the beaches, my wandering mind inevitably lands on one question: How could Van Morrison stand it here?

As most Morrison fans know, the redwood chapter of the Irish singer-songwriter’s story was relatively brief, compared to his life in music, now in its sixth decade. And yet the period beginning when he emigrated to America (coinciding with family life and a big burst of creativity) and ending with his three-year hiatus from performing and recording (following the release of Veedon Fleece) is notable: Morrison’s Bay Area tenure produced such an abundance of songs there was a surplus; moreover, they were consistently played on the radio and still are, forever ensuring his place in local music history. Van’s persistent presence, in and on-the-air here, has not only soundtracked our lives: it’s in our DNA, the songs passed on by Irish immigrant and hippie parents, down to their tattooed love children (and their children), even when concerning faraway characters like the “Brown-Eyed Girl” or “Madame George.” Chances are whether you live in Nor Cal, North Carolina, or Northern Ireland you feel this connection too, yet the combination of deep personal content and universal humanity tucked inside Morrison’s songs was largely lost on me until reading the verses as a whole in Lit Up Inside (City Lights, 2014), the first published collection of his lyrics, handpicked by the songwriter.

It is within these songs—written in Morrison’s own Irish, romantic, soul code, with their carefully planned lines and studied notes and phrases, learned from jazz and classic blues and early rock ‘n’ roll—the story of Morrison’s life unfolds. Whether in the concise rock ‘n’ roll tale, “The Story of Them,” the timeless “Gloria,” “Lonely Sad Eyes,” and “Mystic Eyes,” or epics like “T.B. Sheets” and “Tore Down à la Rimbaud,” we get a glimpse into the people and places of Morrison’s heart, while every sha la la la la la la la la lala dee dah, every your eye, your eye, your eye, your eye, your eye, your eye rolls off his tongue with the same ease it does our own.

Rarely a day passes in which I don’t silently quote from Morrison’s common poems and prayers. In fact, it is from one song, “Domino,” from which I draw most phrases, using them as mantras (though not necessarily in the order they were written). Popping forth, just when I need them most, the words have saved me needless worry, disgrace, despair, disgust, and other things worse. Dig it: There’s no need for argument. Don’t want to discuss it. Think it’s time for a change. Get some heavy rest. There you go. Lord have mercy (not that Morrison holds a copyright on that bit).

While “Domino” isn’t included in Lit Up Inside (it doesn’t need to be), others that work similar magic are included: “Blue Money” (take five, honey—when this is all over, you’ll be in clover, etc.), “Saint Dominic’s Preview” (as we gaze out on, as we gaze out on), “The Great Deception,” (you don’t need it): All are timeless, rich, and just that much sweeter for capturing a place, a time, a San Francisco (or other locale) that no longer exists.

And then there are the hymns, so many of them, providing the book’s heft, conjuring the Almighty, and the music itself, and the ability to heal, whether for the skeptic in “Dweller on the Threshold” or the believer in “See Me Through Part II (Just a Closer Walk with Thee).” Literature serves as savior in “Summertime in England,” the book’s centerpiece, as Wordsworth, Coleridge, Blake and Eliot join the gospel of Mahalia Jackson in one hella hallelujah chorus. In his celebration of the oneness (“Rave on John Donne”) and explorations of the dark (“Tore Down à la Rimbaud”) there is an unremitting acceptance of the what is.

Even in what some might call the middle of the road songs, “Days Like This” and “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You,” Morrison provides simple truths served up by a full service songwriter, and the kind of warmth, companionship, healing, and love too often in short supply in real life (in spite of a reputation that has painted him as a bit gruff). Reading these works on the page I was not only mesmerized, but delivered to a place where recordings cannot always take me. I’m astonished by the depth of the songs, unaccompanied, and their illumination of the Vanness—of a life lived intentionally yet with imagination.

In keeping with the new tradition of assigning the task of writing about musicians to those who generally write on other subjects, Irish professor Eamonn Hughes, American poet David Meltzer and Scottish crime writer Ian Rankin provide the book’s largely personal front material. Both forwards include testimony of the ways in which music in general and Morrison specifically aid transition and provide a vision toward destinations unknown. All the contributions refer to Morrison’s Belfast past and soul while Meltzer makes a case for the Irish songman belonging to the City Lights family of outsider poets and dissidents. Though I had not previously given much thought to the idea of Morrison—maker of hit singles, taker of world tours and recognizable throughout the West and way beyond it—as an outsider, the songs compiled are certainly a validation that fitting in is for squares, being on trend is for the birds, and speaking one’s mind may not win you any popularity contests, but in the end, truth wins. Lit Up Inside is further evidence, as if more was needed, that Morrison’s burr takes us toward our own truths and serve as a guide for the weary and restless on their way home. An artist for the ages, his songs are timeless contributions to poetry, written and spoken word, and shall remain in the air, long after we’re gone and the very last foghorn blows.

***

Denise Sullivan’s new book is Shaman’s Blues: The Art and Influences Behind Jim Morrison and the Doors.

MARKUS JAMES – Head For the Hills

Album: Head For the Hills

Artist: Markus James

Label: Firenze

Release Date: October 28, 2014

Markus James 10-28

www.firenzerecords.com

BY FRED MILLS

Whoa—where did this slide-guit slingin’, north Mississippi blooze-wranglin’ dude come from? Although Markus James has been known in the blues world since the early ‘90s, his press notices ramped up significantly commencing with 2005’s award-winning documentary Timbuktoubab and his 2008 album Snakeskin Violin, both of which featured him collaborating with Malian musicians. This time around he’s rounded up a musical crew from the Mississippi Hill Country that includes Junior Kimbrough’s son Kinney Kimbrough, Kimbrough/R.L. Burnside sideman Calvin Jackson and folks who’ve worked with Otha Turner, Jessie Mae Hemphill and John Lee Hooker. The results are no less trance-inducing than his west Africa-inspired recordings, but there’s also a primal grittiness here that’ll send chills down your spine.

Case in point: “Gone Like Tomorrow,” which unfolds on a bed of hypnotic, neo-tribal drumming as James unleashes wraithlike resonator guitar licks and sings in a high, keening voice reminiscent of both Chris Whitley and Rainer Ptacek at their atmospheric best. “A shadow at midnight,” he moans, “or dreams at midday,” and it’s clear that this man has had a hellhound on his trail for some time now and has ultimately become resigned to his fate. Elsewhere there’s straight up gutbucket boogie that’ll be familiar to fans of the North Mississippi All Stars (“Just Say Yes”), traditional acoustic folk-blues (“Sleepyhead,” featuring a compelling modal chord progression and the sound of crickets at dusk playing in the background) and grinding, stomping meat-and-potatoes rawk (“Woke Me”—“woke up this morning/ the sky was bleedin’ red”). Throw in a sinewy, vibrato-drenched cover of Burnside’s signature anthem “Goin’ Down South” and you’ve got what’s destined to be judged one of the top blues releases of 2014 come year’s end.

Where the fuck did this James muhfuh come from? ‘Tis not up to us to question such matters when something is so obviously the devil’s work….

DOWNLOAD: “Head For the Hills,” “Woke Me,” “Gone Like Tomorrow”

 

 

CARIBOU – Our Love

Album: Our Love

Artist: Caribou

Label: Merge

Release Date: October 07, 2014

Caribou 10-7

www.mergerecords.com

BY APRIL S. ENGRAM

Electronic, dance music producer Dan Snaith has returned with his seventh album Our Love under the moniker for which he is most recognized, Caribou. His last release, 2012’s Jiaolong as Daphni, was a fast-paced, club inspired, mostly instrumental affair. In the vein of what fans expect from Caribou, Snaith has created a more laid back atmosphere with Our Love that still gets you dancing. And as one might expect from the title, Love lyrically explores the aged old conundrum of love and fragile relationships.

The 10 track album includes a few instrumentals, “Dive,”“Julia Brightly”and “Mars,”that prove not as strong as the lyrical numbers. “Second Chance”is a slow paced, pulsating R&B tinged track with guest vocals by fellow electioneer producer, songwriter Jessy Lanza. A sonic change of pace from the rest of the album, “Second Chance” is a song that stands out as it stylistically diverges from the rest of the album but is still not the highlight of Love. The best moments are those where Snaith lends his soft, nearly inaudible falsetto that gently glides with the music.

“Silver,”“All I Ever Need,”“Back Home”and “Your Love Will Set You Free”are all solid numbers. Single “Can’t Do Without You”is easily the best song on Love. Reminiscent of 2010’s “Sun”from Swim which lyrics comprised of the singular word sun, “Can’t Do Without You”is a fun, upbeat track that only includes four lines and the repeated chorus of “Can’t do without you.”It’s an equation that sounds like it should not work, yet Snaith does it again as he builds from a calm, reverbed intro before exploding with drums, keyboards and effects. The same can be said for title track “Our Love,”yet the already danceable song changes halfway and what began as a calm steady track transforms into a trance-like, upbeat dance number.

The well crafted moments within Our Love outshines the weaker numbers and makes the album a fun and danceable listen.

DOWNLOAD: “Can’t Do Without You,”“Our Love