Tuesday, June 1, 2010

T-Bone Burnett - After All These Years (Proof Through the Night,1983)

After All These Years

I heard you saw her again last evening
I heard you'd been with her for two or three days
I still have her picture taped to my mirror
Does she still look the same after all these years?

I remember her as the most beautiful woman
Was her hair still blonde were her eyes still blue?
Were they soft and gentle or filled with tears?
Does she still look as hurt after all these years?

I lost track of her way back in the Sixties
I even heard that she had tried suicide
There were rumors the government killed her career
Did she still look as scared after all these years?

Will they ever uncover her terrible secret?
And untangle the mystery of her life?
Will they ever know why she disappeared?
Was she still as gone after all these years?

Was she still as alluring still as seductive?
Could she still drive you crazy by the look on her face?
Did she still have a whisper you could hear cross an ocean?
Was she still a scandal still a disgrace?

Was she still as impossible still as voluptuous?
Still as helpless and full of fears?
Was she still as provocative still as compelling?
Was she still as late after all these years?

Friday, February 5, 2010

Souled American - Six Feet Of Snow (Around the Horn,1990)

Chicago roots rockers Souled American pioneered the alternative country movement of the early '90s before the music boasted either a name or a fan following. Even as kindred spirits like Uncle Tupelo began making commercial inroads, Souled American slipped through the cracks following the demise of its record label, and still today the band's true influence on a successive generation of bands remains sorely undervalued. Singer/guitarist Chris Grigoroff and singer/bassist Joe Anducci formed Souled American in 1987 after first collaborating in the Normal, IL, group the Uptown Rulers; guitarist Scott Tuma and drummer Jamey Barnard completed the lineup, which quickly honed an expansive, compellingly idiosyncratic approach to rock that reduced the idiom to its basic elements -- country, folk, and bluegrass chief among them -- then reassembled the parts to forge an otherworldly music quite unlike anything produced by the band's contemporaries. In 1988 Souled American signed to Rough Trade to issue its cult classic debut, Fe, arguably their most difficult and far-ranging effort. Flubber appeared a year later and was supported by a tour opening for Camper Van Beethoven. But shortly after the release of 1990's psychedelic Around the Horn -- an album comprised largely of covers.
Withdrawing even more into their own private universe - their popularity, never great, was near minimal at this point, with the collapse of their then-label Rough Trade in America accelerating a slide off the musical radar - the four members of Souled American persevered. Around the Horn shows the band now fully master of a unique kind of Americana, here much more melancholy and gently downbeat than ever before, guitars more apt to ring softly or solitarily than anything else. The dub and r'n'b touches prevalent on the first two albums aren't as apparent here, but what the band loses in relative breadth it more than makes up for in atmosphere. Adducci and Barnard's rhythm work is very late in the evening and moody, and works wonders throughout. The two get to let relatively loose at one point on "Luggy Di," with Barnard's shuddering, non-4/4 time drumming and Adducci's bass both cutting through. Crigoroff's vocals are subtly changing at this point the country twang and ache which invested them on Fe still remain, but are smoothed just a touch, his high vocals a bit more lost and alone. If Will Oldham wasn't listening in at this point, that would be a bit surprising. Almost half the tracks are covers or reinterpretations of some kind, including one done by Adducci's country songwriting mother, "I Keep Holding Back the Tears." Little Feat's "Six Feet of Snow" also gets a Souled American treatment, the most jaunty thing on the album, while the traditional "Durante's Hornpipe" gets a brilliant, short rendition that is quietly uplifting. The slow fading chime of "Rise Above It" is also quite something, another Souled American highlight. Guest performer Jaimo adds muted, low trombone to "Second of All," investing the slow, mournful number with an added dignity.

Six Feet Of Snow

Six feet of snow coming through my radio
It`s raining in stilettos from here clear down to Mexico
My hands they`re numb from hanging on that steering wheel
They`re frozen tight, hope the wind don`t blow me off the road tonight
Don`t you know the ice and snow is sneaking in through my windows
Don`t you know how much I hate to be so cold and so alone
I`m coming home

If it wasn`t for the lines that wind side by side
I`d be lying next to her, next to her tonight

Sweet New Orleans that`s where my girl she waits for me
Hair so long and eyes so green
She`s the prettiest girl I`ve ever seen

Don`t you know the ice and snow
Is sneaking through this boy`s window
Don`t you know how much I hate to be so cold and so alone
I`m coming home

If it wasn`t for the lines that wind side by side
I`d be lying next to her, next to her tonight

(Lowell George/Keith Godchaux)

Poi Dog Pondering - I Had To Tell You (Where the Pyramid Meets the Eye: A Tribute to Roky Erickson,1990)

The eclectic worldbeat/folk-rock outfit Poi Dog Pondering were formed in Waikiki by vocalist/guitarist Frank Orrall, violinist/vocalist Susan Voelz, and multi-instrumentalist Dave "Max" Crawford, the only constants in the group's history; sometimes swelling to upwards of ten members, the band has seen numerous personnel shifts. Named in part for a Hawaiian expression meaning "mutt," Poi Dog Pondering relocated to Austin, TX, and picked up a following through extensive touring; they released two EPs, 1988's Poi Dog Pondering and 1989's Circle Around the Sun, which attracted the attention of Columbia Records with their varied instrumentation, easygoing humor, and offbeat fusions of world musics and folk-rock. Columbia combined the two EPs for the group's 1989 self-titled major-label debut, which along with its slightly slicker follow-up, 1989's Wishing Like a Mountain and Thinking Like the Sea, earned Poi Dog Pondering critical acclaim and a devoted cult following.
Roky Erickson often seems to be better known in rock circles for his well publicized psychological maladies and his less-than-gentle treatment at the hands of Texas' judicial system than for his music -- and that's a shame. While Roky's habit of informing anyone who asks that he's a Martian or is in contact with Satan makes for good fanzine copy, the best reason to be interested in Erickson is his songwriting -- there's a graceful, vivid surrealism to his lyrical style that's endured far better than most of the noodlers who came out of the psychedelic rock movement, and his later bursts of horror film fancy conjure up a troubling tension that's laughed at only by the shallow or ignorant. When Erickson's legal problems came to a head in the late 1980s, longtime fan and Sire Records executive Bill Bentley assembled Where the Pyramid Meets the Eye: A Tribute to Roky Erickson to raise money for Erickson, as well as drawing attention to the unique beauty of his music. Like most multi-artist tribute albums, the results are a bit uneven; some of these artists seem to have appeared out of convenience rather than any great love of Roky's music, and a few of the interpretations are simple miscalculations (Thin White Rope's Guy Kyser really goes overboard on his version of "Burn the Flames"). But there are a several moments of very real beauty and power here, especially from the artists who share Erickson's Texas heritage -- Doug Sahm and ZZ Top rock out on their contributions, the Butthole Surfers' version of "Earthquake" is one of their finest moments on wax, and T-Bone Burnett's take on "Nothing in Return" is a heart-tugging gem. The 13th Floor Elevators' first two albums are still the best place to sample Erickson's music (and the latter-day All That May Do My Rhyme is a fine album, for which Erickson actually receives royalties -- hint, hint), but Where the Pyramid Meets the Eye is a sincere if inconsistent tribute to his work, and shows how well his songs can translate to the styles of other artists.

I Had To Tell You

Candles all around me
wicked spirit clinging
but I can hear you singing
in the corners of my brain

Every doubt abound me
every sound of riot
everything is quiet
but the songbird keeps me sane

I can hear your voice
echoing my voice softly
I can feel your strength
reinforcing mine

If you fear I'll lose my spirits
like a drunkard's wasted wine
don't you even think about it...
I'm feelin' fine

I can hear your voice
echoing my voice softly
I can feel your strength
reinforcing mine

If you fear I'll lose my spirits
like a drunkard's wasted wine
don't you even think about it...
I'm feelin' fine

Dream Syndicate - Merrittville (Live at Raji's,1989)

Dream Syndicate was a guitar-driven band from L.A. from 1981 to 1989, originally associated with the Paisley Underground music movement.Dream Syndicate are at the foundation (alongside the Velvet Underground, the Stooges and R.E.M.) of contemporary alternative music sheerly because at the time when most bands were experimenting with new technology, the Syndicate deigned to bring back the guitar.
A classic guitar band of the eighties. Born at the end of the Punk era, with a feel for Velvet Undergroundon The Dream Syndicate instantly became the saviours of alternative rock before tha term was commonly used.With The Days Of Wine and Roses they climbed to a highpoint in the critics eyes, and is still today considered a classic outside of die hard Steve Wynn fans circles.The Medicine Show took a different direction that the raw punkish debut, and some critiques turned their fingers down. It was/is however on of the most lived albums among fans.After The Medicine Show there was change in line up. Out went Kendra Smith and Karl Precoda and in came Mark Walton and Paul B. Cutler.On tour in support of their final album, 1988's Ghost Stories, Dream Syndicate recorded a limited-edition live album, 1989's Live at Raji's, that quickly became something of a holy grail for fans.A killer live set. extended jams, good sound quality.
This has been referred to as the greatest live album ever.


Matthew with the pug nose
Caught me with his sister in the wheatfield
Got a couple buddies
Tied me up and threw me in his Oldsmobile
I said "Matthew are you crazy?"
As he started closing in for the kill
Matthew slowed the Olds to 10
Left me here to die in Merrittville

There's a game they play in the summertime
There's a game they play when it's hot outside
And I wonder why
They left me here in Merrittville

Sally with the narrow hips
Cut the rope and said that she could clear my head
She led me to the dirt path
All the way back to her daddy's shed
I said, "Sally who'd believe
That we'd have to come so far for a thrill."
Sally let me go that night
Weak, tired and spent in Merrittville

William with the holy book
Stopped me as I stumbled down the road today
He said "Get on your knees, boy.
It's time you learned the right way to pray"
I said "William, I had no idea
That the lord had such a will
William drove his point across
And left me here to burn in Merrittville

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Giant Sand - Uneven Light of Day (Storm,1987)

Giant Sand was the primary outlet for the stylistic curveballs and sun-damaged songcraft of Howe Gelb, a Pennsylvania-born singer/guitarist who formed the four-piece Giant Sandworms after relocating to Tucson, Arizona in the mid-'70s.
With Storm, the Giant Sand story begins to get interesting. The band's third album features a marked leap forward in production and sound detailing from their first two records. Neil Harry's pedal steel gels wonderfully with the work of Paula Jean Brown (aka Mrs. Howe Gelb), who takes over bass duties and adds immeasurably to the tone colors of the compositions with her singing, and drummer Tom Larkins -- though he would depart following the recording, and had become reasonably comfortable with the shifting tempos of main-man Gelb's composing. For his part, it is here that Gelb finally starts to widen his songwriting, beginning the rambling, ambling lyrical spew and loose-but-still-moving-together chord sequences that make Giant Sand a band that is loved so intensely by its devotees. Though the contribution of producer/engineer Eric Westfall -- who had worked on all of the band's records up to this point -- shouldn't be underestimated, it is Gelb's leaps as a composer that make the disc come alive. The opening "Uneven Light of Day," the title cut, the honky-tonk raver "Three 6ixes," "Town With Little or No Pity," and "Was Is a Big Word" are all first-class. Even the cover of the Band's "The Weight" is effective, demonstrating Howe's unflinching eye in the face of the classics and sung with interpretive passion, especially when compared with the desultory cover versions on the preceding Ballad of a Thin Line Man. Storm is the first step in a quickly ascending tier of masterful Giant Sand releases.

Giant Sand, Rainer Ptacek - Inner Flame (A Rainer Ptacek Tribute,1997)

The most striking credit on this tribute to Tucson’s Rainer Ptacek reads “Executive Producers: Robert Plant and Howe Gelb.” That Led Zep’s preening pretty boy and Giant Sand’s desert visionary should find common bond in the musical inspiration of Rainer attests to a gravitational pull far stronger than the artist’s name recognition. It is likely that most who purchase The Inner Flame for its stellar lineup of Plant and Jimmy Page, PJ Harvey, Emmylou Harris, Giant Sand and others will be hearing Rainer’s music, maybe even his name, for the first time.Though patterned after the Sweet Relief fund-raisers for Victoria Williams and Vic Chesnutt — both of whom appear here — Rainer’s bluesy mysticism and elemental imagery casts the contributions of even the familiar artists in fresh light. The impetus for the project came from Rainer’s brain tumor, for which treatment and bills remain, though the cancer is apparently in remission. Most of the tracks feature the tonal shadings of Rainer’s National steel guitar; a couple of others find Giant Sand serving as house band. But the unifying principle is the organic suggestiveness of his material, an introspective, spiritualized brand of blues that is more a feeling than a form.On the album-opening title track, Rainer asks “How’s your inner flame/Does it still burn a lot/Do you complain when it’s too hot?” On the closing “Powder Keg”, his lyric promises, “If your life gets too dark/Call me and I’ll be the spark.” Throughout the rest, the flame burns.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Blackeyed Susans - Sheets Of Rain (All Souls Alive,1993)

What we have here is one of the best albums of the nineties, by an Australian "super group" featuring ex-members of The Triffids (David McComb & 'Evil' Graham Lee), two thirds of The Dirty Three (Jim White & Warren Ellis) + bassist/main songwriter Phil Kakulas (who also was a member of The Triffids early on in their career) and vocalist Rob Snarski.The Blackeyed Susans lineup has always been a bit shaky, but arguably this is the best one they ever had, mainly due to the amazing atmosphere that Graham Lee & Warren Ellis manage to create here; Lee with his lap and pedal steel guitars and Ellis with his violins, organs and other instruments. The music here could be described as spooky/creepy alt. country rock, not unlike The Triffids or even Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. Song highlights include the insanely terrific & terrifying "A Curse on You" that gives me the chills everytime I hear it (again, thanks to Lee & Ellis), "Memories", a cover of the Leonard Cohen classic, where David McComb takes over the vocal duties, and probably the best track "Dirty Water" which again features some mad & excellent fiddling by Warren Ellis. Anyone who has ever heard and liked The Triffids, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Dirty Three etc. really needs to check out this band, and this is probably the best starting point.

Guy Chadwick - Crystal Love Song (Lazy, Soft & Slow,1998)

How often has a songwriter emerged from a bout of severe writer's block with such remarkable beauty? Former House of Love frontman Guy Chadwick has done just that in this low-key debut -- a gorgeous and seemingly effortless collection of breezy love songs. Many of the tracks would have fit well on any House of Love record; the only differences are the dashes of accordian, keyboards, and pedal steel tastefully added to Chadwick's songs, and the lack of rock guitar. Robin Guthrie's(Cocteau Twins' man) warm production serves these gentle songs wonderfully, and Guy's backing musicians complement him masterfully (Guthrie also played bass on eight songs). Lazy, Soft and Slow breaks no new ground, and nothing here tops such House of Love greats as "Shine On" or "Christine," but that couldn't have been Chadwick's intent. If you adore the Harvest-mode Neil Young or favor the "Pale Blue Eyes" side of the Velvet Underground, this album should warm your soul for many Sunday mornings to come.
One of the greatest and most underrated geniuses of brit pop. This album is magic, and the title says everything about the music: it's Lazy, Soft & Slow.

Crystal Love Song

Crystal is distant, those eyes that disarm me
are sadder, and madder, and rare
Pendants of gilt , hanging, pleading for light
are now lost in a voyeur's despair

How can the world with its century turning
be bold, and suddenly care?
Just like that rain, falling in summer,
you are the rain falling on me,
falling on me

Bend me and shake me, thrill and forsake me
I'll travel, or borrow, or climb
Someone will call you to follow, and then lose you
in shadows where hypocrites lie

All of the love in the world is now over
and clouds are filling our minds
Just like that rain, falling in summer,
you are the rain falling on me

Just like that rain, falling in summer
You are the rain falling one me
Just like that rain, falling in summer
you are the rain falling on me
Just like that rain

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

SMOKE - Clean White Bed (Another Reason to Fast,1995)

Jazz, blues, rock, country -- Cabbagetown, GA's Smoke (ex-Opal Foxx Quartet, Jody Grind) was so much more than the sum of its parts. Smoke's essence was unfailingly unique: strangely familiar music running up the spine of the band's odd instrumentation while touchingly disjointed personal anecdotes growl out the ragged vocal cords of bandleader Benjamin Smoke. Rather than alienating listeners with its strange brew, Smoke conjures something queerly beautiful with Another Reason to Fast that transcends gender so completely, and squeezes your own spine so, that writing about it is necessary only to proselytize for the man and his band -- not to approximate their innately Southern, ramshackle, and magical music. But Benjamin Smoke is not a myth, or a saint. He is an artist and a singer, and you need to hear this album.
That mournful cornet and those iron strings bowed across those wooden necks! Benjamin's pained voice singing weary, world-wise lyrics: "All the boys I thought beautiful/ are dead now or in law school." He was a larger-than-life, dress-wearing drug addict, but the only thing the world cares about now is this music. That's all the world should have cared about before. Great stuff and in a better world he'd be better known. In a better world drugs wouldn't have dragged him down I suppose.

Stephen Yerkey - Stinson Beach Road (Metaneonatureboy,2006)

Kurt Wolff, writing in 'Country Music, the Rough Guide,' describes Stephen Yerkey as "one of the greatest little-known songwriters and singers west of the Mississippi. He can moan a gritty blues, growl hard-bitten country from a place deep inside his gut, or whisper the warmth of hope. His voice alone is an amazing instrument, full of quirks and kinks, but at it's core always sturdy, creamy and full-bodied. When Yerkey conjures up visions of cowboys, drunks, and other desperate dreamers, his voice curls and ripples around the words, which jump in all directions but ultimately give in to Yerkey's control, easing to the ground and laying flat out.Behind him a steel guitar cries as the music shifts down low and the night moves onward into early dawn. Yerkey's first band was Nonfiction, which he formed in San Francisco in the 1980's with Chris and Lance Campbell. They put out one record on the English label Demon, and while people in the know practically worshipped the thing, it never made Yerkey much of a living. He worked the clubs in San Francisco for a few years as a solo artist, often teaming up with other local artists like Chuck Prophet, Stephanie Finch, and Patrick Winningham.March 2006 marks Stephen Yerkey's debut on the Chrysalis-owned Echo label. His new CD, 'metaneonatureboy' fuses Yerkey's amazing voice with production legend Eric Drew Feldman.

Terrell - Beautiful Side of Madness (featuring Joan Osborne) 1996.

Gritty, brash, soulful roots rock -- that's one possible tag that would help define Terrell and his Pointblank/Virgin Records debut. Although it's hard to know if Terrell himself is indeed an Angry Southern Gentleman, it certainly makes a bewitching album title. And since his songs tell stories of God-fearing men in New Orleans, voodoo, Sunday shirts, liquor stores, redneck gigolos, whiskey, and lots of driving around, which everyone knows is the quintessential Southern activity, he seems to have a strong argument for his case. Terrell is a playful, creative songwriter, painting images and moods with phrases and melodies that work well together even when they are both battling for center stage.
On Beautiful Side of Madness, Terrell cranks it up to get down and dirty. This is sloppy, raw, bluesy roots rock with lyrics that tend to be smarter than you might expect from this genre. Heck, he mentions Faulkner, Jesus, and Buddha, going so far as to even title a song for "Georgia O'Keeffe." But it's the way Terrell plays with words and twists phrases that makes his music compelling, as long as you don't mind the occasional profanity that is part and parcel to the dark themes of which he often writes, including portraits of drugs, alcohol, and prostitution. Jim Doyle, Rich Meyer, and J. Swanson form the band, which brings a certain backstreet energy and gritty sound refined during a long stint of touring in support of Angry Southern Gentleman. On one of those tours, Terrell opened for Joan Osborne who, in turn, contributes vocals to the title track, which is the quietest and one of the finest moments of the offering. Overall, the second half of the record hits a nice stride somewhere around "Black and White Blues," and is an easier set to listen to than the first handful of tunes.Song "Beautiful Side of Madness" Charlie Terrell writes with the grit of Tom Waits, the intuitiveness of Bukowski, the tenderness of a woman and the passion of a madman.

Beautiful Side of Madness

Tonight is dying.
I need some company.
Let’s go to your place and call it serenity.
I won’t talk about your drinking.
And I won’t tell you to comb your hair.
We won’t say nothing.
We’ll just sit there and stare into the beautiful side of madness.
Into the beautiful side of madness.
Won’t you take me back again.

We lost a lot of laughter.
We lost a lot of nights.
But, I ain’t seen nobody that could always get it right.
I like your eyes.
Oh, there’s a little madness in the blue.
And I know I’m going crazy but, at least I’m going there with you.
Into the beautiful side of madness.
Into the beautiful side of madness.
Won’t you take me back again.

You’re such a languid lover.
Oh, it’s a long slow ride.
But, nobody knows, nobody knows how beautiful it is on the other side.
Into the beautiful side of madness.
Oh, yes, into the beautiful side of madness.
Won’t you take me back again.
Won’t you take me back again.
Won’t you take me back again.

This Kind of Punishment - The Sleepwalker (A Beard of Bees,1984)

A classic case of obscurity at the time but hosanna in the future, New Zealand's This Kind of Punishment started as an experiment by brothers Graeme and Peter Jefferies after their earlier group, Nocturnal Projections, fell apart. Their goal was to move away from the punk-ish, more straightforward sound from the early '80s into a self-consciously more experimental and artistic vein; at which they admirably succeeded over the course of three albums and one EP, each of which had a very structured and dark, if not downright dour, feel to them. The shades of bands like the Velvet Underground hung heavy over the group, not least because of the prominence of piano and violin in their songs as much as, if not more than, more-expected instruments such as guitar and drums. TKP's records were known for taking large amounts of time to assemble and the Jefferies' near-obsessive care for their sound: the second LP, A Beard of Bees, was recorded over 18 months, then released as a private pressing rather than through their label, Flying Nun, because the band preferred the vinyl releases from another record-making plant. Their albums generally confused or outright angered the Jefferies' fan base, but the records achieved a cult following over the years.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Jennifer Warnes -The Panther (The Well,2001)

Jennifer Warnes became a household name in the '70s with her hit "Right Time of the Night" and scored equally big with the Righteous Brothers' Bill Medley on "The Time of My Life" from the film Dirty Dancing. She also wowed critics and fans alike with Famous Blue Raincoat, her album of Leonard Cohen songs. In all, she's sold over 35 million records worldwide, but she's hardly a household word in the post-Madonna world. It doesn't matter, however, as her singular contribution as a singer and writer will outlast all the Christina Aguileras, J-Los, and Britney Spears in the Columbia House catalogue and issues of Tiger Beat magazine. Thank God. Warnes has returned to the recording scene for the first time since 1992 with The Well, a collection ten songs co-produced with Martin Davich. And what a collection it is. As a singer and a songwriter, Warnes knows her strengths well. She understates lyrics and musical phrases as a way of getting them to open up on their own through her gorgeously wrought singing. She's no acrobat; she doesn't reach for the note that breaks the pitch-meter. Instead, she allows her voice to come up from the heart of the lyric she's singing. She wears the song and allows the song to adorn her as well, whether plaintively, as on the title track, one of her co-writes with Texas legend Doyle Bramhall, or her lilting, haunting, spiritual tome "Prairie Melancholy." When doing takes on the songs of others, such as Tom Waits' nugget "Invitation to the Blues," she imbues them with the soft, bluesy swing inherent in the original, but adds depth and dimension with her dry, reportorial storytelling (with fine guitar work from Doyle Bramhall). The songs on The Well seem spare and open, layered lightly, and full of room for Warnes' warm voice to reveal the wealth of emotions in the tunes themselves. But what's interesting is without it being noticeable to the listener, there are small but lush string sections, a few horns here and there, and a full-on four-piece rock band. Her reading of Billy Joel's "So It Goes" is virtually a reinvention of the song. She offers this song from a heart that has been cracked enough times, to paraphrase her friend Cohen, that it has been flooded with light. But it's the songs with Bramhall that are the masterpieces here; they reveal the subtle, bluesy textures of Texas and the strength in expressing one's vulnerability to forces one does not understand, such as on "The Panther." As if to underline the evidence, there is a vocal duet between them on Eddy Arnold's country swing gem "You Don't Know Me" that rivals Ray Charles' version for pure, expressive passion. With her stunning rendition of Arlo Guthrie's "Patriot's Dream," she is backed by a folk music symphony orchestra, with Guthrie himself lending a guest vocal as well as Blondie Champlin and Kenny Edwards, with a Carmen accordion appearance by Van Dyke Parks. The set ends with a piano trio reprise of the title track that wraps all the magic up into a circle, as if these songs were a cycle of mystery, sensuality, and imagination from the very beginning. And, of course they were; Warnes isn't capable of anything less. Welcome back, Jennifer Warnes; you've been missed.

Sid Griffin - Jerusalem Road (Little Victories,1997)

Sid Griffin is that rare artist who has distinguished himself in a number of contexts and on two continents. While best known as the leader the Long Ryders, as a musician, songwriter, producer, author, and archivist, Griffin has become a pivotal member of the roots rock movement, both in the United States and the United Kingdom.By 1981, Griffin had defected to form a new group, the Long Ryders. One of Griffin's pals, Steve Wynn, stepped in to play guitar, but he soon left to form his own (much noisier) band, Dream Syndicate; however, Wynn and Griffin stayed in touch, and the Long Ryders and Dream Syndicate (along with Green on Red and Rain Parade) became known as the key members of a scene dubbed "the Paisley Underground," owing to their shared allegiance to the sounds and musical integrity of the mid- to late '60s, though the influence manifested itself in very different ways within each group. (Wynn later recruited Griffin and two other Long Ryders to backup himself and Dan Stuart for the Danny & Dusty album The Lost Weekend.)
Sid Griffin's first solo album is a solo album in every sense of the term -- it's just him with his acoustic guitar. More folk-oriented than his work with either the Long Ryders or the Coal Porters, Little Victories is an intimate album, and while some of the songs are a little stilted or sentimental, the bulk of the record -- including "The Man Who Invented the Blues" and the previously unrecorded Phil Ochs song "Sailors and Soldiers" -- is quite affecting.

Naked Prey -The Story Never Ends (Naked Prey,1984)

_"That's why it hurts, it's raining deep down in my soul"_

Van Christian was at one time Green on Red's drummer; back home in Tucson, Arizona, he switched to vocals and guitar and formed Naked Prey. The quartet plays rough-edged country rock with similarities to Green on Red (as well as Dream Syndicate and others in the California/Arizona axis). Although the seven-song debut's powerful sound is strictly modern, some of David Seger's sociopathic guitar solos recall acid-drenched summer of love shows at the Fillmore. An unassuming, occasionally exciting record.This band was closely related to Green on Red, (and that desert rock sound explored by similar bands in the early to mid-eighties) in that Dan Stuart produced this ep and the vocals on a couple of songs, 'Take the Word' in particular, sounding uncannily like Dan Stuart. Then when you consider that Green on Red also released their debut ep on the Down There label then you know that the spirit underpinning the whole project should not be doubted in the slightest. When Naked Prey roar though, they roar fucking loud and actually you'd have to say that the band was on a heavier sounding vibe than Green on Red ever were. There's nice bluesy stuff on this album too, but they had the ability to build up the momentum into a post punk fury. Lead guitarist David K.Seger could really burn along some hot lead breaks too, I guess that the band was recorded at exactly at the right time coz the sound released here is mighty fine.Most of the songs deal with having a hard life, with questions tearing at Van Christians', the lead mans's, heart. Songs about falling apart, songs about the blues from a white fellas point of view, there's even some religious overhangs here for the record. The whole thing is almost perfect and the cover photo of the band is highly impressive, with the mob lookin' like they'd just got out of their beds, playing in barefeet in someone's loungeroom. Fuck where did these guys come from? It's a real shame that their later stuff wasn't up to this great quality. The song 'Hour Glass' shows where their future songs would be coming from, in that it's more standard rock than blues, but when that feedback kicks in watch out!!!. They close the album with a Dylan cover 'Billy The Kid II' and even that works. Great ep by an underrated band.
With a new drummer, label and producer (Paul B. Cutler), Naked Prey revved up their folk-distorto-rock on Under the Blue Marlin. Christian's colorful singing and Seger's guitar work remain the group's virtues, as Prey's songs don't make much of an impression. (A Stooges cover is both helpful and indicative of the band's own failings.)
The same problem plagues the thematically linked 40 Miles From Nowhere: despite killer guitar (including slide) and relentless energy, unimaginative melodies and lyrics derail the effort. (Christian's deteriorating voice is another trouble spot.) Still, a pair of covers — Jagger/Richards' "Silver Train" and a funereal version of "Wichita Lineman" proves what these boys might do with substantial material. Live in Tucson was recorded in 1988.

Boiled In Lead - My Son John (From the Ladle to the Grave,1989)

Arbiters of a style that's been variously called celtopunk and rock & reel, Boiled in Lead originally consisted of Drew Miller (bass), Jane Dauphin (guitar, vocals), fiddler Brian Fox, and a drum machine known as Amos Box. This lineup played a handful of gigs around the Minneapolis area. As of St. Patrick's Day 1983, the band had expanded to include drummer Mitch Griffin and fiddler David Stenshoel. This lineup recorded the 1985 bOiLeD iN lEaD, an energetic self-produced, self-released LP that hit the Celtic folk market like a rocket. BiL might well have played traditional music as part of their repertoire, but the format and delivery was anything but traditional.Second guitarist Todd Menton joined the band in 1985 after an encounter with Miller at an Irish session led him to sit in with the band for a few gigs. It also led to a change of instrument for Menton, who had been playing saxophone up to that point. The expanded lineup set to recording their second album, Hotheads, in the summer of 1986, but by the time the album was released in early 1987, both Griffin and Dauphin had left the band. Hotheads received a Minnesota Music Award for Best Celtic/Bluegrass/Folk Album of the Year. Old Lead compiles both albums onto a single CD. Griffin was replaced by drummer Robin "Adnan" Anders, whose style took in everything from straight-ahead rock to complex Middle Eastern structures that helped influence the direction of the band. BiL spent much of 1987 touring, heading into the studio at the end of the year to record From the Ladle to the Grave, which moved away from the loud Celtic approach to add Eastern European, Russian and even African material to the band's repertoire. Cooking Vinyl then signed BiL for European distribution. The album was released in April 1989, and proceeded to win another Minnesota Music Award, this time for Album/CD of the Year.
The group's first album with Anders on drums proved to be the catalyst for turning what was already a strong, multifaceted group into a flat-out amazing one. Bringing not merely good skills but an encyclopedic knowledge of many world music traditions to the group, he helps fire the quartet up on a series of brilliant performances. The opening track "The Pinch of Snuff" might initially have raised warning signals, with a steady hard rock punch seemingly the furthest thing from BiL's folk roots. However, the electric mandolin soon changes that impression, and by the time everything speeds up, tin whistle and fiddle played like the devil, it's clear BiL are in full effect and out to slay the house once again. Menton's lightly but not stereotypically Celtic-inflected vocals add to the show, but Ladle's many instrumental performances do the business just fine. Perhaps the most striking thing about BiL is how its many fusions never feel forced, a quality shown in spades throughout the album. Combinations range from "Cuz Mapfumo," at once a tribute to East African musician Thomas Mapfumo and Celtic-American performer Cuz Teahen, to "Stop! Stop! Stop!," a giddily entertaining romp through the old Hollies hit mixed with a traditional Egyptian song. Perhaps appropriately, the band weaves its political and social commentary roots as skillfully into its songs as its musical inspirations, never sounding preachy at the expense of entertainment. "My Son John" makes for a fierce ending, dedicated to an anti-military protestor horrifically injured in the course of his work, while "The Microorganism" is a catchy yet still affecting caution regarding AIDS.

My son John

My son John was tall and slim
And he had a leg for every limb
Now he's got no legs at all
They're both shot away with a cannonball
Well were you drunk or were you blind
To leave your two fine legs behind
Or was it from walking upon the sea
That took your legs from the ground to the knee
I wasn't drunk and I wasn't blind
To leave my two fine legs behind
Was a cannonball on the fifth of May
Took my two fine legs away
And all the foreign wars I'll now denounce
'Twixt this king of England or that king of France
I'd rather my legs as they used to be
Than the king of Spain and his whole navy
For I was tall and I was slim
And I had a leg for every limb
Now I've got no legs at all
You can't win a race with a cannonball
For I was tall and I was slim
And I had a leg for every limb
Now I've got no legs at all
You can't win a race with a cannonball

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Marti Jones - Soon I Will be Gone (Match Game,1986)

Pop singer Marti Jones first emerged as the frontwoman of the group Color Me Gone before issuing her solo debut Unsophisticated Time -- produced by future husband Don Dixon -- in 1985. Though the recepient of widespread critical acclaim, Jones found little commercial success with LPs like 1986's Match Game.Not as good as the debut, although this one also features husband Don Dixon, and members of the DB's and Bongos, as well as T-Bone Burnett, Paul Carrack, and Marshall Crenshaw. The best track of the album is a beautiful ballad "Soon I Will be Gone" (a cover of British blues-rock band Free).

Crazy Backwards Alphabet - Sarayushka (La Grange) 1987.

Crazy Backwards Alphabet was a side project of Henry Kaiser. Others in the band were John French, Michael Maksymenko, and Andy West of the Dixie Dregs.Very great avant-rock songs in the vein of Vialka and Captain Beefheart and post-punk/new wave influences.Heavy chops and creativity from this expansive supergroup, included are some hilarious cover versions like a cover of ZZ Top's "La Grange" sung in Russian!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Glass Eye - Whiskey (Bent by Nature,1988)

One of the most audacious experiments of the Texan rock of years '80 was that one of the Glass Eye, group of Austin begun in 1985 with the autoproduced EP Marlo, a collection of arduous elettro-jazz songs with the bottom of Brian Beattie in beautiful sight, the crooked rhythms of Scott Marcus to impose impossible times, and the timbriche "acids" of the keyboardist Stella Weir to disfigure those little of melodies sung by Kathy McCarty. Beattie is responsible for the harmonies "fusion" and the difficult rhythms that graft jazz and avant-guard onto the ancient POP.
The first album, Huge (Wrestler), of 1986 widely maintained to those promises, while the successive Bent By Nature (Bar/None) of 1988, with Dave Cameron on drums and Sheri Wools to the keyboards, try one less extreme synthesis. The idea is however always that of one to make some rock a little bit askew, with the instrumental parts hiccupping, the irregular times, the song more jazz than folk, and a worthy composure of a chamber quartet (but Kicking The Dog stamps funky). Beattie raves with I take from saloon in Comeback, inserting the royal guitar of the southern school in more "open" harmonic outlines, from free improvisation, until to lick the first Soft Machine in Living With Reptiles. Of other songs the ballads of McCarty (like Whiskey and Oblivion) make one think of Joni Mitchell of average age or of Grace Slick of the Jefferson Starship (Christine). It is a sound perhaps too much cerebral, more from new wave than from college-POP.

Mary Gauthier - Falling Out of Love (Mercy Now,2005)

Alt-country singer/songwriter Mary Gauthier exploded onto the scene in 1999 following her self-released sophomore effort, Drag Queens in Limousines. The album, which garnered her a Crossroads Silver Star and a four-star rating in Rolling Stone, had critics comparing her self-described "country noir" to the likes of Townes Van Zandt, Steve Earle, John Prine, and, not surprisingly, Lucinda Williams.
Since her second offering, the self-issued Drag Queens in Limousines in 1999, and continuing through the stellar Filth & Fire in 2002, Texas singer/songwriter Mary Gauthier has quietly and consistently raised the aesthetic bar for herself. She has been favorably (and accurately) compared to Townes Van Zandt for her literate American gothic songs about wasted lives, desolate characters who roam the highways like ghosts, shattered dreams, and frustrated expectations. But Gauthier never exploits her characters; she views them with a piercing tenderness and empathy, painting them with dignity and humanity. On Mercy Now, Gauthier digs a little deeper; she comes down on the side of the song itself. The protagonists whose tales she relates are given rich musical voices, adding depth, dimension, and flesh and blood as related by her keen-eyed observations, unflinching poetic language, and willingness to be subtle and not intrude. Her razor-wire, weatherbeaten, loving kindness digs deep as it pleads for release on "Falling Out of Love," which opens the record. With her acoustic guitar in minor mode, a deep, lonesome harmonica, hollow, sparse percussion, and producer Gurf Morlix's trademark slow-wrangle slide, she sings and even becomes the voice of the broken-hearted blues. There is no sentimentality in her view, just the taut edginess that is so wearying and anxious about trying to get past the addiction to a memory seared with every breath. On the title track, Gauthier's guitar and voice offer a gritty, moving meditation on compassion, invoking mercy for all those who suffer, from family to church and country to those who are nameless and faceless. There is nothing facile in Gauthier's words, nothing remotely trite or ordinary about the weariness in the grain of her voice, as Brian Standefer's cello and Morlix's lap steel fill the center and carry the message to the heavens humbly, slowly, purposefully. "Wheel Inside the Wheel," written for the late Dave Carter, is a spooky rolling and choogling banjo/guitar extravaganza. It features characters from Gauthier's New Orleans Mardis Gras: Louis Armstrong, Marie Laveau, the Krewes, etc. -- all of them metaphors for the transmigration of souls. Her cover of Harlan Howard's "Just Say She's a Rhymer" is as back porch as it gets, dressed in fiddle, steel, strummed six-strings, and plodding bass. Her delivery comes out of time and space and rests fully in this moment. Gauthier inhabits the song as if it were her own. The set closes with the punchy, electric "It Ain't the Wind, It's the Rain." A Hammond B-3 carries the tune from underneath as stinging guitars, throbbing basslines, and Gauthier's clear, prophetic voice rings over it all. What a finish; what a record. Mercy Now cuts deep into the heart -- it showcases not only Gauthier's prowess with the poetry and craft of song, but her humility and wisdom as she digs further into its chamber of secrets.

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Kropotkins - Cold Wet Steel ( Dave Soldier The Kropotkins,1996)

Taking their name from a 19th century Russian anarchist, the Kropotkins were the avant-garage rock project of Soldier String Quartet composer and violinist Dave Soldier, a professor of psychology and neurology at Columbia University with an extensive and eclectic musical background: in addition to playing guitar with Bo Diddley and collaborating with John Cale and Elliott Sharp, he arranged the scores to the 1996 films I Shot Andy Warhol and Basquiat and produced "Ice-9 Ballade," an orchestral collaboration with Kurt Vonnegut. Also comprising Memphis-based vocalist Lorette Velvette, percussionist Samm Bennett (the frontman of History of the Last Five Minutes and Chunk), drummer Jonathan Kane (an alumnus of Swans, Sirens, Rhys Chatham and LaMonte Young's Forever Bad Blues Band), improvisational violinst Mark Feldman and bassist/guitarist Dog (born Mark Deffenbaugh), the Kropotkins issued their self-titled debut -- a synthesis of punk, Delta blues and avant-garde experimentation -- in 1996. 5 Point Crawl followed in spring 2001.

Phranc - Dress Code (Positively Phranc,1991)

Declaring herself as Jewish, lesbian, folk singer-songwriter that teaches surf and swiming, Phranc shocks all those who have closed mind. To shock and to make people think is someting that is certainly a letfover from her punk-rock heritage.She is open to everything in her style, but she also knows how to be very critical. She just knows how to name right things with the right name. When she sings about fachism, she simply shouts "Take off that swastika!". A lot of so called feminists would be probably negatively surprised by her treatment of Gerthrude Stein for example. She just took an old Modern Lovers song and simply replaced Pablo Picasso with Gerthrude Stein.She keeps her link with her native punk scene all the time. She played live with Husker Du, X, Dead Kennedys, John Doe... Phranc is an excelent signer and an excellent songwritter. She writes uncompromised folk songs, with defiant lyrics. She is also very found of surfing and she likes to perform and wite surf music. On her records often a surf song replaces a folk song, and like that 'til the end of the record. Unique feeling.To hear her music was the hardest thing to do, and the first song I heard was an uncompromised folk anthem to body and self (and to lesbianism) entitled Dress Code. Slap in a face! Strenght of a song strikes me even now. She sings: "You don't have to prick me, I bleed anyway".

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Resentments - Build Your Own Prison

The Resentments started out as a jam session among five fixtures on the roots rock and alternative country scene, but evolved into a real band. A regular member of Kris Kristofferson's band in the 1970s, Stephen Bruton was alt-country when it was called outlaw country and he was still called Turner Stephen Bruton. He worked with Rita Coolidge, Willie Nelson, T-Bone Burnett, and Billy Joe Shaver before starting his solo recording career and releasing four albums of his own in the 1990s. In 2002, he formed the Resentments with guitarists/singers Jon Dee Graham and Jud Newcomb, who have almost equally impressive resumés. Graham helped found roots rock pioneers the True Believers, recorded with John Doe and Kelly Willis, and released three critically acclaimed albums of his own. Newcomb's long been a fixture on the Austin music scene and has played with Ray Wylie Hubbard and Bob Schneider. Bassist Bruce Hughes and drummer John Chipman (who replaced John Treaner in 2003) both have sideman resumés too long to list here. The Resentments recorded their first album, Sunday Night Line Up, in 2002, and followed up with an eponymous self-titled release.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

James Luther Dickinson - Ballad Of Billy And Oscar

Nostalgia ain't what it used to be. Dwelling on the glories of the past, whatever the decade currently in fashion, pales before the glories of the present with its paradigm shifts and all-access Internet. One thing I do miss in the recent and current decade is "characters": that is, people who don't fall into types; folks who by dint of intelligence, mixed with experience and a unique vision of the world, carve out a personal place in it--men like Jim Dickinson.

It would be easy to write him off as a mere roots-rock legend. The legend would start at the Sound of Memphis Studio in the late Sixties, where, with Charley Freeman, Tommy McClure, and Sammy Creason, he formed the rhythm section known as the "Dixie Flyers." The Flyers moved to Miami, Florida, as the Atlantic Records house band backing such artists as Aretha Franklin, Sam & Dave, and Jerry Jeff Walker. After leaving the Flyers, Dickinson returned to Memphis, and began a producing career, working with Ry Cooder and Big Star. His work with the latter no doubt appealed to later clients like Green On Red, and The Replacements. And, oh yeah, Dickinson recorded "Wild Horses" with the Rolling Stones.

In true "character" fashion, these facts don't begin to sum up the man. You might be surprised that he studied drama at Baylor University--unless you thought about it for a minute. He has released two solo records before this as James Luther Dickinson, thirty years apart (take that, T Bone). The more recent, 2002's Free Beer Tomorrow, contains a song, "Ballad of Billy and Oscar," about an imagined meeting between Billy the Kid and Oscar Wilde.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Lucy Kaplansky - Say Goodbye Love

Lucy Kaplansky remains in high demand as a backup vocalist for fellow folkies on the road or in the studios; her pure voice and New York accent can be heard on almost every Shawn Colvin, Richard Shindell, Nancy Griffith, and John Gorka album. Her ear is incredible and she seems to be arranging her harmonies on the spot, making good songs great with a subtle yet powerful touch.But though in concert she tends to focus on her own stunning songwriting, Dr. Kaplansky’s cheerful delight at singing and arranging the tunes of others translates to her own recordings, too: her albums tend to come in at about one-third covers, and her taste is impeccable. Over the last thirteen years, she has come to be known as much for her sterling interpretations of the songs of others as she is for her own material.In fact, Lucy Kaplansky is such a prolific and powerful artist.
From CD called "The Songwriter's Exchange," recorded at the Cornelia Street Cafe in 1980 featuring Lucy as part of a duo called "Simon and Kaplanski" singing
"Say Goodbye Love," "Moon Song" and "Rooms."