Saturday, December 5, 2009

Illinois Entertainer Reviews 2009 (Part V)

I published twenty-nine reviews in the Illinois Entertainer in 2009. Below are five brief ones.

ROGER JOSEPH MANNING JR.: Catnip Dynamite (Oglio)--Even when overdubbed into Queen-like choirs, Manning’s voice is a little too thin, and that’s the only thing wrong with this tour de force of what can only be called ace influence synthesis. Both the Beach Boys and Paul McCartney--heck, maybe even 10cc and the Osmonds--in their primes would‘ve killed for a song as sweet and buoyant as “Love’s Never Been Half As Good,” and Alan Parsons could’ve no doubt found places for “Survival Machine” and “The Turnstile at Heaven’s Gate.” But the most glorious result of Manning’s misspent youth is “Down in Front.” Combining a hook worthy of T. Rex or Sweet with the clavichord riff from ELO’s “Turn to Stone,” it could almost make one believe that bubblegum music really is the naked truth.

BUDDY & JULIE MILLER: Written in Chalk (New West)--If anyone (or, in this case, any two) can make you believe they really want to be taken back to the time when they had two mules instead of a tractor, it’s Buddy and Julie Miller on this album’s “Ellis County”--solo, together, or on other people’s records, they write and sing as if they were channeling spirits distilled long ago and far away. As usual, the Buddy-sung songs tend toward backwoods country blues, the Julie-sung songs tend toward late-night heartbreak, and the ones they share tend toward salvation by way of hell. The difference this time is the cameo duet partners. Regina McCrary and Patty Griffin get two songs apiece, Robert Plant and Emmylou Harris each get one, and while they don’t add much, at least they don’t subtract much either.

BETH ORTON: Trailer Park (Legacy Edition) (Arista/Legacy)--Because it was ahead of its time and because it wasn’t as celebrated here as it was in England, Trailer Park (Disc One of this thirteenth-anniversary reissue) will still strike Americans as contemporary. Not, of course, that “contemporary“ is synonymous with “brilliant.” While the London fog one hears in Orton’s voice gives the ear more to work with than the Nova Scotia sunshine in Sarah MacLachlan’s, Orton’s overriding sentimentality is, in the end, just as unrewarding to the brain. Where this edition really comes to life is Disc Two. Comprising her 1997 Best Bit EP and eight other previously uncollected B-sides and covers of the period, its patchwork nature makes for pleasant surprises. Best bit: her use of Tony! Toni! Toné ’s “If I Had No Loot” riff in “Best Bit.”

PERE UBU: Long Live Père Ubu! (Hearthan)--Something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Pere Ubu Fan? Sure, you know the band is named after a character in Alfred Jarry’s seminally absurd nineteenth-century play Ubu Roi. You’ve even been to this album’s website (, learned that the songs are based on a new adaptation of Jarry’s drama, found the libretto, read along, done outside research, and laughed repeatedly at the slowed-down, looped belching of drummer Steve Mehlman on “Less Said the Better.” Unfortunately, you’ve also come across this quote from Ubu leader David Thomas: “Brutal, lacking charm, and without redeeming values, this is an album for our times. It is, in fact, the only punk record that's been made in the last thirty years." What were the Ramones--chopped liver?

IGGY POP: Préliminaires (Astralwerks)--That Préliminaires is no ordinary Iggy Pop record should be obvious from its appearing on Astralwerks; that Préliminaires is no ordinary Astralwerks record should be obvious from its having been made by Iggy Pop. Except for the ambient-inclined “I Want to Go to the Beach,” “How Insensitive,” and “Spanish Coast,” the music works variations on everything from Leonard Cohen seduction (“Les Feuilles Mortes”), Tom Waits cabaret (“King of the Dogs”), and Howlin’ Wolf blues (“He’s Dead, She’s Alive”) to The Idiot-style punk (“Nice to Be Dead,” “She’s a Business”) minor-key synth-pop (“Party Time”), and spoken word (“A Machine for Loving”). The “theme” may elude those who haven’t read The Possibility of an Island, the Michel Houellebecq novel on which Préliminaires is based. The songs might make them want to read it.

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