Thursday, April 11, 2013

Illinois Entertainer Reviews 2012: C-F

Sacred Fire EP 
(Collective Sounds)

If Jimmy Cliff were as great as his Rock and Roll Hall of Famer status suggests and not an overrated reggae journeyman, these five songs might seem like a condescending sop to fans willing to lap up anything bearing his name.  As matters stand, however, Sacred Fire comprises his most consistent twenty minutes since 1980’s underrated I Am the Living.  Too bad a third of it’s given over to a version of “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”: Other than making the protagonist’s blue eyes brown, its main accomplishment is interrupting the flow established by the Clash cover (“Guns of Brixton”), the Rancid cover (“Ruby Soho”), and a Cliff original (“Ship Is Sailing”) that makes having many rivers to cross seem like not that big a deal after all.

He Is My Story: The Sanctified Soul of Arizona Dranes 
(Tompkins Square)

How obscure was the piano-pounding gospel shouter Arizona Dranes?  So obscure that Michael Corcoran, the author of the Dranes biography that accompanies this compilation of her music, has only come up with forty-two pages on her despite years of investigating.  Granted, the story is interesting, if only because it traces rock-and-roll to black Pentecostals and therefore implies fascinating truths about America.  But decades of Dranes’ life itself remain elusive.  As for the lovingly speed-corrected remastering of the 78s that Dranes recorded, it sounds about the same as what Document Records captured on Dranes‘ Complete Recorded Works in Chronological Order in 1994--as much naked Holy Ghost enthusiasm as the Chicago recording studios of the late 1920s could handle without going up in flames.

Worshipping the Dollar 
(Sunday Best)

Considering that in “West End Story” the featured rapper Akala says global poverty goes unnoticed because “we’re too busy blingin’,” you get the impression Dub Pistols are against the monetary idolatry referred to in this album’s title.  On the other hand, the hedonistic, cocaine-fueled fantasy narrated in “Mucky Weekend” by its featured rapper, Rodney P, could only come true with lots of surplus cash.  So call this bi-racial London-based ensemble ambivalent about the filthiness of lucre in general but rock-solid sure about its cleanliness when used to finance reggae-rooted beats as deep and crisp as the many that proliferate throughout this relentlessly catchy recording.  Really, “Bang Bang” (featuring Kitten and the Hip) is what Madonna was aiming for on MDNA’s “Gang Bang” and almost hitting.

Grand Hotel 
(Rock Ridge)

Don’t hate the explorers in this club because they’re dutiful--to picking up where ’60s AM radio left off, to imagining what Brian Wilson might’ve accomplished if he hadn’t turned his brain to mush, to making music the likes of which hasn’t been heard in nearly fifty years simply because they want more of it.  If on 2008’s Freedom Wind they were practically Beach Boys clones, this time, by adding and combining other influences, they sound determined to prove they’re no mere novelty act.  Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass (the title cut), the Turtles (“Any Little Way”), Climax and the Association (“It’s No Use”)--actually, Climax was a ’70s band.  Hmmm.  These guys had better be careful or they’ll be channeling Three Dog Night before they know it.

Faithful Man 
(Truth & Soul)

It’s understandable that those mourning the departures of Solomon Burke and Howard Tate might find solace in Lee Fields, a dogged journeyman with an equally dogged, if relatively small, core of fans who’ve long considered him the heir apparent to the old-school-soul throne.  The problem is he’s more like Percy Sledge--same upper-range intensity, same sense of strain while going to emotional extremes--but without anything as riveting as “Take Time to Know Her” or “When a Man Loves a Woman.”  What’s almost riveting is his cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Midnight Mile.”  It begins with the pitter-patter of the percussion riff from Ann Peebles’ “I Can’t Stand the Rain.”  It ends without Fields ever once having given Mick Jagger reason to look over his shoulder.

Illinois Entertainer 2012: Green Day

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