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.