Saturday, April 25, 2009

2006 Album Reviews: G-H

(As published in the Times of Acadiana unless otherwise noted...)

Tony Gilkyson: Goodbye Guitar (Rolling Sea)—Gilkyson has more ideas than most sidemen (e.g., his Woody Guthrie cover swings) and more voice too. About his well-traveled guitar there’s never been any doubt; though he comes on roots-folky these days, he did replace Billy Zoom in X. Rating: Three-and-a-half wild gifts out of five.

David Gilmour: On an Island (Columbia)—Surface similarities aside, this album is no Dark Side of the Moon. If anything, it’s better, or at least prettier. Better yet, more surface similarities aside, it’s also no Alan Parsons projectile. If anything, the title cut, “Smile,” and one or two others sound like (Brian Wilson’s) Smile outtakes that barely missed the cut. Gilmour’s pretensions to philosophical profundity aren’t as annoying as Roger Waters’ either—Gilmour’s no deep thinker, and he knows it. As for his musical pretensions, they’re just what he does, and he does them well. Does it all add up to much? I doubt it. Is “A Pocketful of Stones” about Syd Barrett? Seems possible. Will these dreamscapes help Sigur Ros fans see the error of their ways? Let’s hope. Rating: Three-and-a-half twilights of the gods out of five.

Gnarls Barkley: St. Elsewhere (Downtown)—The necrophilia song is as repulsive as it’s meant to be and the Violent Femmes cover as catchy as it’s meant to be. Meanwhile, Danger Mouse provides the extremely useful public service of bringing the Sly Stone aesthetic into the twenty-first century, namely, that the best in current black pop and the best in current white rock can be so tightly intertwined that not even the most determined musical segregationist can tell where one ends and the other begins. Stone fused his black and white components with hot funk and ace hooks. Mouse uses a supple electronica abuzz with what sounds like the tension of the times. I prefer his Gorillaz work for its higher highs, lower lows, and deeper depths, but I prefer this act to just about everything else currently topping the charts. Rating: Three-and-a-half dream teams out of five.

Hacienda Brothers: What’s Wrong with Right (Proper American)—Something about this Dan Penn-produced honky-tonk R&B falls just short of the magic that it always seems about to deliver. Maybe it’s Chris Gaffney’s lead singing, which enlivens but fails to redefine Charlie Rich’s “Life’s Little Ups and Downs,” the Box Tops’ “Cry like a Baby,” and the Intruders’ “Cowboys to Girls.” Maybe it’s Dave Gonzalez’s background singing, which recalls but fails to incarnate that of any of several dozen vintage soul combos. Maybe it’s Dan Penn’s production, which boasts definition but fails to generate the hothouse atmosphere in which roots music thrives. On the other hand, having classic Charlie Rich, Box Tops, and Intruders on the same album amid songs that, even at their most generic, could easily be made special by Taj Mahal is pretty nice. As for “If Daddy Don’t Sing Danny Boy” and the instrumental “Son of Saguaro,” they’re nice enough, and maybe magical enough, on their own. Rating: Three-and-a-half swinging saloon doors out of five.

James Hunter: Believe What I Say (Hep Cat)—Those who’ve checked out Hunter’s more recent recordings will not be disappointed by this, his 1996 debut finally made available in the States. They should, in fact, be thrilled. Turns out he was just as blue-eyed soulful from the get-go as he is now, composing and singing like the combined reincarnations of Jackie Wilson, Sam Cooke, Bobby Bland, and Billy Stewart. At his very best, he even gets close to conjuring Ray Charles, and, as if to convince the skeptical, he not only tackles “Hallelujah I Love Her So” but also gets that most devout of Ray Charles fans, Van Morrison, to duet with him on “Turn on Your Love Light” and “Ain’t Nothing You Can Do.” Makes the past seem like so nice a place to visit that you’ll think twice before deciding not to live there. Rating: Four-and-a-half nothings he can’t do out of five.

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