Saturday, March 17, 2012

My 2011 Illinois Entertainer Reviews: B

On a Mission

In “Easy Please Me” (this disco doyenne likes omitting words from titles), Katy B complains no “man” pleases her because “their lines are far too cheesy” and “no boy is on the level.”  Besides not knowing the difference between a man and a boy, she’s also a hypocrite: She herself isn’t on the level either.  “You don’t have to have a lot of money,” she sings.  “All you’ve got to have is fire burning deep in your soul.”  Yeah, right.  Beats like hers don’t grow on trees.  In fact, they’re probably the best money can buy.  They’re also the only aural detail of these songs that makes them seem special to the extent that they do.  Recurring subject: feeling good.  Recurring malaise: not making feeling good feel all that special.

The Singles Volume 10: 1975-1979
(Hip-O Select)

What bliss it must have been to be James Brown in the mid-to-late ’70s. Judging from these thirty-six A and B sides, all he had to do to get on the good foot was assemble his musicians, tell them to make it funky now, grab the mic, and freely associate on whatever theme happened to be occupying his mind at the time. If the jam went on too long for seven inches of vinyl (as was the case, for instance, with “For Goodness Sakes, Look at Those Cakes”), he’d just fade it out halfway through then bring it back up on the flipside. Biggest surprise: the David Bowie “Fame” sample in “Hot (I Need to Be Loved).” Best line (from “Woman”): “My mother was a woman--and she still is.”

My 2011 Illinois Entertainer Reviews: C

My 2011 Illinois Entertainer Reviews: C

Dreams Come True

Any album with the word “dreams” in its title had better be dreamlike if not necessarily dreamy, and on that count Chris Taylor, a.k.a. Cant, scores a ten.  A kaleidoscopic array of electronica envelops these songs, unifying them into a haze that’s soporific without being dull, maybe because by Track Four (the misleadingly titled “Bang”) Taylor’s dreams start to sound a lot like nightmares, becoming downright horrific by Track Six (the slowly churning “She Found a Way Out”).  By the time Track Eight (the bad-acid-trippy title cut) careens around, Taylor has descended all the way into a Dante’s Inferno of his own making, and in neither of the last two tracks (“Rises Silent” and “Bericht”) does he find a way out.

Bootleg 3: Live Around the World 1956-1979

That hearing Cash “live around the world” from 1956 to ’79 isn’t as exciting as hearing him live at Folsom Prison or San Quentin in 1968-’69 says more about the crowds than him.  “Here’s a song called ‘I’ll Never Forget Ol’ Whatsername,” he cracks on Disc One, Track Eleven.  On Track Sixteen: “No, I don’t drink anymore--I don’t drink any less, but....”  In short, although you own these songs in multiple other versions, this collection isn’t entirely redundant.  By Disc Two he’s playing the White House: “[H]e was born in Arkansas, and he now lives in Tennessee,” quoth President Nixon.  “But he belongs to the whole country.”  Then Cash sings “A Boy Named Sue,” albeit with a vocal screech where the “son of a bitch” should be.  

(Red General Catalog/V2)

Alec Ounsworth’s most impressive accomplishment this time out is that, from what sounds like bits of early New Order and U2, he has fashioned a shimmeringly anthemic sound that keeps the keening thinness of his voice from being annoying.  He even delivers the mellow change of pace “Misspent Youth” without making the modern-day Hamlet pose he strikes in it seem ridiculous.  As for the poses he strikes elsewhere, they’re tougher to assess because the music’s windswept grandeur tends to overwhelm what he’s singing.  Taken as a whole, though, this album sure sounds good--hooky, pretty, and sometimes both.  His formula fails him only once: The seven-minute “Adam’s Plane” not only doesn’t get to wherever it’s going but also doesn’t sound as if it ever will.

Cornershop & the Double ‘O’ Groove Of
(Ample Play)

“Minus the mock-heroic guitars,” writes Spin’s Mikael Wood of this album, “Tjinder Singh's globalist critiques lose some of their pop-political punch.” Well, maybe, but as all 10 of these songs are sung in the Punjabi tongue of the guest lead vocalist and lyricist Bubbley Kaur, the politics would be lost on Cornershop’s English-speaking fans anyway. What won’t be is that Tjinder Singh and Benedict Ayres have seldom if ever recorded a bubblier (pun intended) or catchier version of the East-meets-West synthesis they’ve spent the last 18 years perfecting. Sitars and synthesized clavichords atop dub-wise bass and drums whose bustling shuffle might or might not be programmed--it’s a sound for sore ears. “Double Decker Eyelashes” is to cry for. And good luck not shaking it to “Don’t Shake It.” 

My 2011 Illinois Entertainer Reviews: E

My 2011 Illinois Entertainer Reviews: E

The Gate

You needn’t be a fan of vocal jazz to enjoy the latest album by this perennial Grammy nominee, although being a little old might help. Under producer Don Was, Kurt Elling and his combo transform King Crimson (“Matte Kudasai”), the Beatles (“Norwegian Wood”), Earth, Wind & Fire (“After the Love Is Gone”), and Stevie Wonder (“Golden Lady”) into acoustic, late-night meditations entirely worthy of the Bill Evans-Miles Davis (“Blue in Green”) and Marc Johnson (“Samurai Cowboy”) company they keep. The real coup though is Joe Jackson’s “Steppin’ Out.” By slowing the tempo and upping the swing quotient, Elling puts the emphasis on the music and takes the burden off the lyrics, the too-inside nature of which he meanwhile renders moot by singing them in a sandpaper baritone that’s pure mood. 

Drums Between the Bells

Quoth Eno in the liner notes: "We are right at the beginning of a digital revolution in what can be done with recorded voices....  Speech has become a fully-fledged musical material at last."  Funny, you’d think the guy would’ve heard of Laurie Anderson by now.  All the same, if it’s by keeping his head in the sand that he dreams up soundscapes as eerily beautiful as the ones he has created on this album for the poems of Rick Holland, more power to him.  In fact, although the words (read by an assorted cast) and the soundscapes mesh just fine, the soundscapes sparkle even more brightly on their own--as anyone who plunks for the limited-edition package and its bonus disc of the entire album voice free will discover.

My 2011 Illinois Entertainer Reviews: F-G

My 2011 Illinois Entertainer Reviews: F-G

Authorized Bootleg/Fillmore East, New York, N.Y.: Late Show November 7, 1970
(Hip-O Select)

The Flying Burrito Brothers (or “the Flying Bean Sandwiches,” as one member jokes on this album right before “I Am a Pilgrim”) have been legendary for so long that it’s easy to forget how relatively small a deal they were when these forty-two minutes of music were recorded forty-one years ago. Gram Parsons, who’d just been replaced by future Firefaller Rick Roberts, wouldn’t achieve drug-casualty status for three years, Bernie Leadon was yet to become an Eagle, and the rhythm section of former Byrds wasn’t exactly auditioning for the Rolling Stones. But, oh, could Sneaky Pete Kleinow pick that pedal steel and make it weep, and, oh, could they sing! “Lazy Days,” “My Uncle,” and, lest we forget, “Wild Horses”--like, Susan Boyle has nothing on these guys. 

The Great American Songbook

Now that Rod Stewart has relinquished dibs on the “Great American Songbook” franchise, Sony moves in with this eighteen-track teaser for its dozen-disc box, Take a Look: Aretha Franklin Complete On Columbia. That’s “Columbia” as in Columbia Records, the label long maligned for trying to turn Franklin into a cross between Nancy Wilson and Mahalia Jackson and of therefore clipping the soulful wings she would later sprout on Atlantic. It turns out it’s not that simple. She sounds plenty soulful on “Cold, Cold Heart,” and elsewhere she’s hardly chopped liver. The accompaniment (the metropolitan equivalent of countrypolitan) is what takes getting used to.  But Franklin sure did.  And although she wouldn’t record Young, Gifted And Black until 1972, she sounds all three here--and in that order. 

All Will Prosper
(Western Vinyl)

Goldmund is Keith Kenniff, an American composer and musician mysteriously attuned, on this album at least (he also records shoegaze, ambient, and children’s music), to the melodies of the Civil War-era United States--music that, as his PR puts it, “tied friends and families together in a time when the nation was being torn apart.”  With nothing more than a piano and an acoustic guitar, he resurrects “Dixie,” “Shenandoah,” “When Johnny Comes Marching Home,” and eleven other contemporaneous songs in shatteringly ghostly renditions.  Not every melody registers instantly.  Several (“The Death of General Wolfe,” “Bonnie Blue Flag,” “Who’ll Save the Left?”) might even strike anyone less than intimate with the popular music of that period as new.  As for the one genuinely new song, Kenniff’s “Ashoken Farewell,” it fits. 

Awesome As Fuck

As a description of the band and-or the music itself, this album’s Walmart-unfriendly title is either comic hubris or self-delusion. “Awesome”? This? But as a reaction to the ride on which Billie Joe, Mike, and TrĂ© found themselves when they recorded these seventeen intensities in sixteen cities, it’s understandable and just the shibboleth to let the inarticulate hordes for whom they speak know that, even while pushing forty and with a Broadway musical just around the corner, they’re still American idiots at heart. 21st Century Breakdown provides five songs, “21 Guns” benefits from the communal vibe, and “Cigarettes and Valentines” makes its debut. What was almost certainly not retouched in the studio: “San Diego, let me hear you scream!” “What’s in your heart, Michigan?!” and (twice) “Let’s get fuckin’ crazy!”  

My 2011 Illinois Entertainer Reviews: H-K