Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Pentangle "The Pentangle" (1968)

Why are these guys not given the acclaim that tends to go to Fairport?  My assumption would be that the tragic death of Sandy Denny and the ongoing career of Richard Thompson have elevated the profile of Fairport.  At the time, Pentangle were clearly as good, if not better than their better remembered peers.  Two top notch guitarists, a stellar vocalist, and the best rhythm section in folk rock.  Absolutely brilliant stuff.

Richard Thompson "Doom and Gloom from the Tomb, vol 1" (1985)

Originally created as a bonus for fan club members, this is by definition non-essential.  It is outtakes & live recordings from the late 70s/early 80s.  Given the plethora of live RT currently available, this is even less essential.

John Renbourn Group "Live in America" (1981)

This is a brilliant exploration of the group's take on English folk music.  The vocals of Jacqui McShee make this practically a Pentangle album.  And the use of percussion shows the connection between the music of England and North Africa. 

The Dubliners "Best of the Dubliners" (2002)

There's a bit more grit here than you might expect, given the recordings' 1960s origins.  The boys all sound as if they've had one or two pints and are ready to have a good time.  It walks right on that edge of being too mannered and a wreck.  I assume that for the time, these recordings would be analogous to what the Pogues were doing in the 80s.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Caroline Herring "Lantana" (2008)

Herring loves tragic tales of Southern women.  While obviously contemporary in their arrangement and construction, she is probably most influenced by the tradition of murder ballads and disaster songs.  But there's no blame as much as there is an attempt at empathy.  It's wonderful stuff.

Ry Cooder "Chicken Skin Music" (1976)

Part of my complaint about the earlier Cooder records was that they were a bit too by the numbers.  Boomer discovers the blues.  Boomer records Robert Johnson covers.  Yawn.  I think I've heard that one before. 

Chicken Skin Music flips the script a bit.  Yeah, it still starts with some blues covers, but the next thing you know Cooder is throwing in Latin and Hawaiian influences and it gets good and weird.

Delta Spirit "Ode to Sunshine" (2007)

Aren't these guys much more popular in the UK?  I think that I ended up with this album because reviewers so frequently reference the Americana/Alt Country influences and speak about Delta Spirit as if they were an up and coming twangy band. 
I suppose that those influences are there if you look hard enough, but really they're another indie rock band that I fail to hear what makes them special.

John Renbourn & Dorris Henderson "There You Go" (1965)

This album cover is always a bit of a shock to me.  I tend to think of the sixties folk scene as rather dour and of course all serious and black and white.  So the popping reds are a continual surprise.  But I suppose that it's fitting.  Henderson's vocals are not your typical English folk vocals.  She sounds more like Odetta, with strong touches of blues and gospel in her interpretations of the material.  This works wonderfully with Renbourn, who seemed to have more blues influences in his playing in these earlier days. 

This is sort of a lost classic, and deserves to be more widely heard.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Martin Carthy "The Collection" (1993)

Hand-picked by the man himself, this is a nice overview of the career of this bastion of the English folk revival.  No, not the one with the Mumfords, but the earlier one.  At times it's dry -- like much of the period's folk music, but is still important if you want to understand the tradition.

Deerhunter "Microcastle" (2008)

Here's a question:  do the kids listen to bands like Deerhunter?  Or is their audience composed solely of guys in their 30s & up?  It seems so obviously made by people who listened to 80s bands like Sonic Youth and yet determined to be arty and experimental.  For all the internet fame that Deerhunter have accrued in the last few years, I have to wonder if it translates at all into real life fame.

The Dodos "Visiter" (2008)

So much of the writing about this band gets bogged down in a myriad of exotic influences.  Now I'm not denying that maybe those really are the true influences... but to my ears XTC is directly responsible for so much of the sound.  This is very interesting stuff, but it just doesn't quite all come together for me.

Alela Diane "Forest Parade" (2003)

Diane's first, self-released album shows where she's heading, but as you might expect, it's a bit rougher than her later work.  Still good though!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Nick Cave "The Boatman's Call" (1997)

Is the cult of Nick Cave still such a big thing?  Hmmm.... I must admit that I prefer my Nick Cave as a twisted balladeer, rather than as a rocker. 

Unfortunately this album still needs some work.  While it is at times absolutely wonderful, there are many times when the words are clumsy and awkward.  It's a shame, because with more work, this could have been as good as Leonard Cohen, & other A listers. 

Calexico "Travellall" (2000)

Recently I was listening to a jazz record based on cowboy songs.  Framed around a guitar/bass/drum lineup, the record really wasn't that different from a record like this, that comes to the same place from the other side.  This is a group of nominally indie rock musicians stretching out & playing jazz pieces.  Or are they pieces of soundtrack music for an unmade Western?  It is pieces like this that make me love Calexico.

Cherish the Ladies "One & All" (1998)

This is an odd choice & perhaps a cash grab by Green Linnet.  It's a best of collection that only covers 3 albums.  Yeah, I think that's a bit too quick to pull the trigger on a compilation as well.  Regardless, Cherish the Ladies are a wonderful contemporary act, & this is a great collection.

Califone "Heron King Blues" (2004)

Wilco are sometimes referred to as the "American  Radiohead".  In fact, this other Chicago band has a better claim to that title.  While both bands have roots in traditional American music, Califone are far more experimental, and are more firmly planted in the European tradition as well

For me, in fact, that line straddling is problematic.  They seem to be committed to neither tradition.  Maybe it's just me, and I can't handle the cognitive dissonance.  But I would rather that the music was either more traditional, or more experimental.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Holly Golightly "Dirt Don't Hurt" (2008)

Now this is what I want to hear when punks start trying to play American roots music!  The scruffy punk attitude and lofi values combined with an obvious respect for the material makes for an extremely fun album.

Malcolm Holcombe "Not Forgotten" (2007)

For some reason, I just can NOT spell this guy's name properly.  Arrgggg!

Oh well.  Holcombe seems to consistently record records of left of center country songs.  I can't determine if his breaking of structural rules is intentional or not.  And does it matter?  Regardless, I find that his insistence on moving away from the norms distances me from his songs.

The Hackensaw Boys "Look Out" (2007)

Imagine that Old Crow never wrote "Wagon Wheel".  There's no massive singalong hit.  Just a modern band playing music that is heavily influenced and indebted to string band music.  That's what you've got with The Hackensaw Boys.

DJ/rupture "Uproot" (2008)

A great party amalgamation of various forms of dance music in the new millennium. 

Destroyer "Trouble in Dreams" (2008)

Trouble in Dreams is a great pastiche of the sort of 70s rock that doesn't really get its due from the normal "classic rock" establishment.  It's a world where Glam Bowie is king, and you think that a funky funky eye patch may just be the ticket.  It's a absolute joy and perhaps one of my favorites of the decade.

Ruthie Foster "The Truth According to Ruthie Foster" (2009)

Today we would think of this as a blues album.  A few decades ago, this would have been a rock album.  Foster brings a nice mixture of folk, blues and rock together for a really entertaining album.  It's one of those that makes you imagine that she is probably very very good in a live environment.

Okkervil River "The Stand Ins" (2008)

I really want to like this album.  It's smart. It's literate.  It's well played.  But somehow it just doesn't connect with me. 

The Gaslight Anthem "The 59 Sound" (2008)

The next decade's Social Distortion?  Springsteen's punky little cousins?  Whatever they are, this is the best release from The Gaslight Anthem (so far).  Good good stuff.

Q-Tip "The Renaissance" (2008)

For listeners of a certain age, Q-Tip probably did more than any one figure to popularize hip-hop.  The Renaissance is his first release of this millennium.  Unfortunately, I find it too steeped in R&B.  Listeners with different tastes may love this album.  For me, there's too much contemporary crooning.  *sigh*  Maybe next time.

Grouper "Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill" (2008)

What a deceptive album this is!  At first it is haunting, ethereal.  It is tantalizing, slipping slightly out of hearing, seemingly disappearing as you try to focus on it.

On closer listening, it's remarkable how much of its sound is actually production techniques covering up the actual music.  Her voice is weak and thin, barely capable of holding a tune.  The guitar playing is simple and repetitive.  None of the parts are remarkable or worth much consideration.

And yet the whole is really quite remarkable.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Elliott Smith "From a Basement on the Hill" (2004)

Released posthumously, FABOTH sounds like the partially finished work that it is.  Not as smooth and beatlesy as the high points of his LA years, it is also worlds away from the lofi DIY feel of the earlier Portlandia records.  For the completists only.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Jack Rose "Raag Manifestos" (2004)

Does the cover art give away too much?  This album is Rose as acoustic psychedelic warrior.  There are not many with both the technical chops and the inclination to record long acoustic drone work.  Rose somehow pulls off what sounds like it should be terrible.

Dave Alvin "The Best of the Hightone Years" (2009)

I really don't know why Dave Alvin isn't in the conversation for best contemporary songwriter.  Is it some personal issue?  Is it because he's based in California?  Is it because his label doesn't spend the money or do the politics correctly?  For whatever reason, he seems to be overlooked.  This collection makes the case that he is every bit the equal of Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams, or whoever you normally talk about as being the best.

Ben Nichols "The Last Pale Light In the West" (2009)

It's been at least 20 years since I read Blood Meridian.  But I can understand Ben Nichols' fascination with the book, and his desire to write a group of songs based upon it.  Nichols' weathered voice is a great fit for the earthy, violent material of McCarthy's tale.  Highly recommended.

The Mountain Goats "Heretic Pride" (2008)

The Mountain Goats are what I think of as internet famous.  On the internet, everyone seems to know who John Darnielle is, and there are lots and lots of fans.  In real life, people don't seem to have heard of him, or of his band.  It's a shame really, because he's been making some of the best most literate rock music of the last decade.

Mercury Rev "Deserter's Songs" (1998)

90s psychedelia.  For me, the closest comparison is probably the Flaming Lips.  There's the same lack of guitar muscularity, but with a real sadness.  This kind of thing seems to really have a certain time & place, & it's hard to listen to this without it being early morning in a cheaply furnished apartment.  I think you know the scene.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Woven Hand "10 Stones" (2008)

I love love love this album cover.  I do not love this album.  There's a certain undergraduate seriousness to it.  A firm commitment to the fact that it is ART and ART can NOT be fun. 

Van Morrison "In All Your Revelation" (1979)

This is an absolutely stunning bootleg of a show or shows from Ireland in 1979.  Van straddles the line between rock and jazz musician, with a top notch band behind him.

Paul Weller "Studio 150" (2004)

A decidedly minor effort from the ModFather.  An entire album of covers is a bit much, at least for me.  One or two sprinkled around with originals is really the way I prefer things.

The Hold Steady "Stay Positive" (

It's not that this record is anything new.  At this point, The Hold Steady do what they do.  You either like it or you don't.  While not as solid as some of the other albums, Stay Positive has more than enough boozy rock to make you feel good.

Greg Brown "The Live One" (1995)

These things are facts.  Greg Brown is great.  All his live albums are great.  Every live album has a certain magical moment not found on any of the others.

My Morning Jacket "At Dawn" (2001)

On their second full length, My Morning Jacket are perhaps at their best.  They are still playing slightly melodic haunting rock.  The Neil Young influences are worn on their sleeves, proudly.  This is a band with something to prove, at a time when those classic rock influences were not so hip.

Josh Ritter "The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter" (2007)

By all rights, an album with a title so pretentious should not be any good.  It should be pompous and overwrought.  Somehow, this particular record is a lot of fun.  Great songwriting that is built upon, but not only in mimicry of, Boomer classics like Dylan et al.  Mr Ritter should be much more popular than he is.

Kathleen Edwards "Asking For Flowers" (2008)

My memory of this album is of a much more country album that what it actually is.  It seems to split the difference between her earlier folk/country persona & her more contemporary female indie singer songwriter persona.  While I fully support Ms Edwards doing the sort of music she wants to do, I really don't enjoy the indie stuff nearly so much.

Whitehouse "White House" (2003)

I'm thinking that the "New Supergroup" label was a bit premature.  This is the only release from this group, and there's almost no information about it online.  That being said, it's good Stanley style bluegrass.  I hadn't listened to this record in years, & I don't feel like I'd been missing anything.

Split Lip Rayfield "Never Make It Home" (2001)

Albums like this are examples of what Blood Shot Records did best:  get a bunch of punk rock kids who want to play country(ish) music & let them have fun.  While it's not so hot technically, it's high energy & a lot of fun.

Chris Knight "The Trailer Tapes" (2007)

While this did not get released until 2007, these songs were actually recorded as demos in the 90s. Fortunately, stripped down acoustic versions of country songs seem to sound timeless, so it's hard to tell exactly when Knight wrote or recorded this material.  Highly recommended for fans of Steve Earle & the like.

Cherryholmes "Cherryholmes II: Black and White" (2007)

Future musicologists exploring the connection between bluegrass and power metal are going to *love* this album cover.

Cherryholmes are one of the many bands to follow in the wake of Alison Krauss.  Slick production and soft, whispy vocals are the first thing that you notice over the technical perfectionism.  They developed quite a following before their breakup, but this sort of thing inevitably leaves me cold.

The Modern Lovers "The Modern Lovers" (1976)

Sometimes you come across an artifact that seems impossibly out of its time.  The cover of this first Modern Lovers album looks like it could be for a Babys album or something like that.  However, the music is perhaps the best of all the first generation punk albums (even though it was recorded in 1973!) and has elements of what we think of as post-punk.  Just get your head around that.  Why is this record not issued to all high school students?

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Minutemen "Double Nickels On the Dime" (1984)

This is on the short list for best album of the decade.  And yet strangely enough, why didn't it inspire more followers?  Stop reading and go buy it if you don't have it already.

Chatham County Line "IV" (2008)

Chatham County Line are one of the new breed of bluegrass bands.  They have one foot in tradition, but aren't so bound by it as the pure traditionalists.  At the same time, they clearly are more invested in the tradition than some of the new bands that are only tangentially bluegrass at all.  Anyway, this is a great album.  These guys are players to watch out for in the future.

Andrew Bird "Noble Beast" (2009)

Andrew Bird is one of those musicians who I feel like I should like a lot more than I actually do.  I try.  I really do.  But for some reason, I just have trouble actually connecting with the material.

Concha Buika "Nina De Fuego" (2008)

This is an absolutely gorgeous flamenco record.  Traditional, yet with influences from contemporary acts.  Wonderful wonderful stuff.

The Ruby Suns "Sea Lion" (2007)

With their upbeat poptimism and vague world music affectations, The Ruby Suns make me think of Haircut 100 2.0.  AND THAT'S OK.  There's a combination there that works, but for whatever reason it's not a sound that has ever been a dominant pop sound.  Unfortunately, The Ruby Suns just can't seem to get all these pieces together at the same time.  There's a lot going on, and it doesn't always work together.