Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Cramps "Smell of Female" (1983)

It's only about 30 minutes, but what a 30 minute ride!  This is a live set released in 83.  I assumed that the playing would be sloppy and amazing (and it is), but the sound quality really blows me away!  Most of the live recordings of The Cramps' peers sound terrible.  This is a clean, crisp recording.  Wow.

Neko Case "Middle Cyclone" (2009)

I've always seemed to have a strange relationship with Neko Case's music.  I like all the parts.  The arrangements, her voice, the lyrics, the production.  When it's playing I enjoy it.  Now I'm not crazy for it, & it does have a tendency to morph into background music, but I enjoy it.  However, 10 minutes after I finish listening to it, I've totally forgotten about it.  It's like it's never existed.

The Waifs "Live From The Union of Soul" (2009)

This is a live set from this young Australian folk act.   There's a surprising amount of stylistic diversity present, from honky tonk to strummy folk.  This is all presented with beautiful harmonies & a charming stage presence.

Old School Freight Train "Six Years" (2009)

OSFT are a contemporary progressive bluegrass band.  I think of their music as "third stream" bluegrass, influenced more by classical and contemporary indie rock than the blues or folk tradition.  Similar in that regard to the Punch Brothers, etc etc...

The sonics of "Six Years" are absolutely stunning.  Of course with David Grisman doing the production work, that is to be expected.

Unfortunately, there's not a lot here that I can really sink my teeth into.  The technical abilities are strong, but none of it seems to move me.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Gretchen Peters & Tom Russell "One to the Heart, One to the Head" (2009)

It's interesting that two performers who are known as songwriters collaborate, & then choose to record an album primarily of covers.  Amongst others, there are songs by Bob Dylan, Ian Tyson, Rosalee Sorrells, & Diana Jones.

There's a languid pace to this material.  Touches of accordion add a southwestern flair, & accentuate the desert vibe. 

It's a bit odd when I think of this album.  I like some material so well, that I think perhaps more highly of it on the whole than I should.  On balance, I find quite a bit of the material a bit too smooth (perhaps its the curse of the piano based arrangements).  But the material that works for me.... oh, how it works.

The Replacements "Let It Be" (1984)

This is one of the short list albums that were the soundtrack to my college years.  I can't remember who bought the album first, & I suppose that doesn't really matter.  What I do remember is how various friends and roommates fell in love with the album.  About the time anyone would get sick of it, someone else would seem to discover it for the first time.  So this one got a LOT of plays.

In so many ways it still sounds like a perfect soundtrack to that time.  Brash stupid songs ("Gary's Got a Boner"), semi ironic references to our childhood (the KISS cover), doses of angst ("Unsatisfied").  Listened in opposition to the posturing of arena rock, or the big city artiness of post punk, it was a breath of fresh air.  Somehow the Replacements seemed like guys we would know.  And maybe you'd see this sort of sloppy rock & roll on a Friday or Saturday night at the local dive bar.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Cramps "Psychedelic Jungle/Gravest Hits" (1981/1979)

This is a CD reissue of The Cramps' second full length, with their debut EP tacked onto the end.  Hence the 2 dates. 

Psychedelic Jungle suffers a bit from muddy production, as so many 80s releases are prone to do.  Ultimately, it's just not their strongest collection of material.  The performances are rather subdued (by their standards).  I'd suggest skipping it.

ESG "A South Bronx Story" (2000)

Somehow, sisters from the Bronx ended up recording dark skittery minimalist funk.  This music owed more to the early post punk scene than it did to any obvious soul/funk pedigree.  How does this happen?  Of course they came to be reevaluated through the side door.  Their songs were used widely as samples in the early 90s.  This music is still vibrant and fresh sounding.  Highly recommended.

Madlib "Beat Kondukta vol 5 & 6" (2009)

This album cover is so representative of Madlib's sound.  A degrading imagine, strong at first impression, that slowly slips away as you come closer to grabbing it.  Brilliant.

As I listened to this album I kept thinking about how Madlib seems to be underappreciated.  Oh sure, there's a sense that critically he's seen as a talented guy, but there's really only a small cult of Madlib heads who really seem to value his music.  Why is a band like Radiohead seen as perhaps the dominant musical voice of our time?  What do they offer that he doesn't?  My initial reaction is that residual rockism is the answer.  They're seen as musicians, while he's seen as some sort of DJ/producer figure.

This entry in the Beat Konducta series is Madlib's tribute to his good friend & collaborator, J Dilla.  It's an information rich instrumental sound collage.  Highly recommended.

Mulatu Astatke & The Heliocentrics "Inspiration Information" (2009)

The third volume in Strut Records' "Inspiration Information" series brings together veteran Ethiopian jazz player Mulatu Astatke with young London groove merchants The Heliocentrics.  The concept is intriguing, introduce young lions to veterans, and hear the results.  Unfortunately, in this case the collaborative process doesn't seem to have quite worked.  The result sounds more like The Heliocentrics laying down a musical bed, quite Astatke provides some melody lines on top.  Astatke's work is interesting, if not particularly groundbreaking.  The Heliocentrics, however, are too prove to devolving into the tepid forms of downbeat that were so popular at the turn of the century.  This ultimately succeeds as neither funk nor Ethiojazz. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Gun Club "Miami" (1982)

Talk about an album title not matching its sound.  Even the album cover, showing the band with palm trees, is contradictory to its sound.  There's no sunshine here.  This Miami is only night.  Driving a fast car through the desert, not knowing if you're running to or from something.  The soundtrack to a horror/action movie.

The sound here is less bluesy than "Fire of Love".  For some reason I keep thinking of Echo & the Bunnymen.  Perhaps it's the deep vocals.

This video's from a couple of years after the release of this album, but hey, any cover of CCR is better than CCR, right?

Jenn Grant "Honeymoon Punch" (2011)

By 2011, Grant has more or less totally abandoned her earlier folk-based sound.  "Honeymoon Punch" is pure indie pop.  Nicely crafted songs that suit her voice well.  Unfortunately, nothing here really stands out to me.

17 Hippies "El Dorado" (2009)

"El Dorado" is a journey through the European folk tradition.  This German collective moves fluently through a variety of styles & creates a wonderful, fun listening experience.  Highly recommended for fans of Beirut or other Balkan influenced acts of the last decade.

Tom Rush "What I Know" (2009)

I have to admit that I'm really not familiar with Rush's work from the late 60s/early 70s.  In my mind, he's always been lumped into that Greenwich Village scene, which has always seemed a bit tame and boring.

This is Rush's first studio album since the mid 70s.  He's remained active, apparently, playing to his fanbase, but not doing studio recordings.  "What I Know" is really what you'd expect from someone with his artist profile.  The arrangements are all folky or light country, with occasional guest vocals from (who else?) Emmylou Harris & others.  The songs themselves are more than competent technically, ruminations on aging and reflections on a life mostly lived.  For his fans, they were probably ecstatic, but I personally don't find it very engaging.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Candi Staton "Evidence: The Complete Fame Records Masters" (2011)

This is a wonderful collection of Southern Soul music.  Staton's classic sides recorded at Muscle Shoals at their peak.  Staton's voice isn't as powerful as Aretha's, but that doesn't mean that it's not as expressive.  Highly recommended.

Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby "Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby" (2008)

British pub rock icon teams up with American songwriter for a collection of lofi indie pop songs.  The songs are simple, the harmonies ragged.  This one is hailed as a classic by some, but I'm just not hearing it.  The sass in the songs is too toned down to be considered angry, & some of their targets a bit misguided (men in sandals ??). 

Jenn Grant "Echoes" (2009)

Jenn Grant is a Canadian singer songwriter, working that same space as Feist.  At its core her music is simple guitar based songs, but overlayed with simple band arrangements and electronics.  This is the portion of the music that gives it a more contemporary feel.  Her songs and voice are solid enough, but nothing here really moves me.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Cramps "Bad Music for Bad People" (1983)

Somehow The Cramps still sound fresher and more dangerous than most any contemporary band.  It's sloppy and raw and bad to the bone.  The rough production is a perfect fit for the ascetic of the music.

AMG lists the release date for this as 1983, but I'm fairly certain I remember kids wearing the T shirt before then.  It became an iconic signifier in the early 80s, & I have to admit that the graphics still appeal to me.

Most, if not all of these songs are now available on other releases, but this still holds up.

The Gun Club "Fire of Love" (1981)

More than 30 years later, "Fire of Love" is still a lava hot smoking platter of rock & roll madness.  Back in '81, the connection between punk & blues had not been clearly drawn.  The Brits had ignored the connection (probably because it was too closely associated with the Clapton/Green/Page/et al guitar gods they wanted to dethrone).  Americans were focusing more on 60s Nuggets acts. 

Coming out of the LA scene, Jeffrey Lee Pierce reconnects to the primal force of the blues, energized by the punk bands of his time.

It's interesting to hear how much this sounds like the Dream Syndicate in hindsight.  There's more of an instrumental emphasis than you might expect from the scene.  But unlike, say Television, this isn't NY avant instrumental prowess, but that clearly evolved from the rock scene.

Beastie Boys "Hot Sauce Committee, Pt 2" (2011)

Does it really matter *when* a Beastie Boys album was released?  They seem to exist in their own temporal continuum.  While seemingly not a part of the hip hop dialogue, they always seem to sound both cutting edge and retro.

"Hot Sauce" isn't a game changer the way that "Paul's Boutique" or "Check Your Head" were, but it's still a great album.

Doug Paisley "Constant Companion" (2010)

This is a much more confident & assured release from Paisley.  Gorgeous country rock songs, evoking tender relationships.  For whatever reason, it seems to have been overlooked.

Candi Staton "Who's Hurting Now?" (2009)

What does a legacy recording act do after the big comeback record?  Staton followed up the comeback with a gospel record, & then ends up here.  This is a solid effort, modern in sound, yet mimicking classic Southern R&B.  While that's it's strength, unfortunately it's also it's weakness.  Now it's competing with the old recordings.  And quite frankly, it fails to live up to the standards of her older material.  For completists only. 

Phosphorescent "To Willie" (2009)

"To Willie" is Phosphorescent's ode to Willie Nelson, focusing primarily on Nelson's early 70s material for Columbia.  The album cover itself is an homage to Nelson's "To Lefty from Willie" album, itself a tribute.

The implication is that this should be listened to in the context of the country music tradition of cover albums, a popular tactic in the pre-Beatles era when there was a purer distinction between songwriters & performers.  The problem with this approach is that the cover album concept works best when the performer is a unique stylist who is then challenged with bringing their own style to the earlier works of a master songwriter.  Phosphorescent isn't even remotely on that level of stylist.  While a competent indie country rock act, they don't have an instantly recognizable sound.

Additionally, Phosphorescent fall prey to the indie fallacy that legacy acts were all singularly toned.  Willie, for example, is viewed through a lens of slow late night ballads.  This removes all the swing from Willie's arrangements (and a crucial part of his sound).

Still, "To Willie" is an enjoyable, if minor release.  Recommended for late night listening.