Thursday, May 22, 2014

add 1044 Karen Elson

Though The Ghost Who Walks is Karen Elson's debut album, she isn’t exactly a musical newcomer -- even if it might seem that way to those who know her as the model who married the White StripesJack White. With previous projects ranging from the political cabaret of the Citizens’ Band to the garage punk tantrums of Mildred and the Mice,Elson has her share of musical experience, but with such wide-ranging credits, it was anyone’s guess what her own album would sound like. On The Ghost Who Walks, she runs the gamut from chilly murder ballads with British roots to Nashville twang, giving old-timey folk and modern rock the same intensity and singing of shipwrecks, stolen lovers, and storms with a beguiling mournfulness. Her voice’s dark dreaminess carries the album, especially on more stripped-down tracks like the acoustic late-summer lament “Lunasa” and the ghostly shanty “Stolen Roses.” Though the album is Elson's showcase, White produced it, and his touches are everywhere. “The Truth Is in the Dirt”’s earthy, apocalyptic feel gets added heft from sudden dynamic shifts and spooky organ and pedal steel that recall his work withthe Dead Weather -- and indeed, White's bandmate Jack Lawrence plays here as well, underscoring the repertory company vibe of projects White is associated with. His fondness for theatricality and Elson's cabaret roots combine on “100 Years from Now,” a lovelorn song that starts off sounding like it’s being played on a wax cylinder, then blooms into a sweeping waltz complete with theremin, and on the dust bowl ballad “Mouths to Feed.” Yet many of the album’s most striking moments are decidedly modern-sounding: “The Ghost Who Walks” -- which gets its name from one of the epithets Elson was called in school because she was so pale -- updates the murder ballad tradition with electric pianos that rain unearthly beauty onto the song; “A Thief at My Door” ebbs and flows, dipping into darker rock territory; and “The Last Laugh”'s gentle country-pop sounds like it could have come off a long-lost Dolly Parton album from the ‘70s. While The Ghost Who Walks occasionally feels a little long and scattered, it’s still a beautifully made album that earns Elson a place among moody songstresses such as Neko CaseAmanda PalmerHope Sandoval, and Paula Frazer.


add 1043 Dr Feelgood

Distilled from the five-CD Looking Back box set, 25 Years is basically everything you want to know about Dr. Feelgoodbefore you take the major step which we all know is inevitable -- discovering everything you need to know about them. 40 tracks pursue the band from start to finish and beyond -- the final rush of cuts includes material from vocalist Lee Brilleaux's last ever live show (the full concert appears on the Down at the Doctors album), together with four more from On the Road Again, the reborn Doctor's first album with new vocalist Pete Gage. It's stirring, sterling stuff throughout. With only the occasional lapse, the Feelgoods quality control never lapsed for more than a song or two, none of which are included. Rather, this is the Feelgoods for perfectionists, the story of what could have been the most righteous firestorm ever to explode out of mid-'70s Britain. It begins with a clutch of songs drawn from the Wilco Johnson heyday, which put the band on the map and made punk rock a reality. No surprises, no shocks, no disappointments -- "Roxette," "She Does It Right," "Back in the Night," "I Can Tell," you can guess the rest. From there, album by album is raised up for inspection, milked of its might and then placed gently down again -- only the self-confessedly dire Classic is given anything resembling short shrift. Only occasionally do you listen to one song and wish another had taken its place. In fact, the only regret in the whole blessed package is that we will never hear their like again. But at least we heard it once.


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

add 1042 Hard Working Americans

While Todd Snider is best known as a witty and insightful songwriter, in 2013 he gathered together a handful of friends who are also gifted musicians and let some of his favorite songwriters do the talking for a change. Hard Working Americans is a new band that features Snider on vocals and guitar, along with guitarist Neal Casal (of the Chris Robinson Brotherhood), bassist Dave Schools (from Widespread Panic), keyboardist Chad Staehly (Great American Taxi), and drummer Duane Trucks (King Lincoln). For their self-titled debut album, Hard Working Americans picked 11 cover tunes which deal with the hard truths of life among the working class, some recent compositions, and other, older songs that have remained relevant with the passage of time. Songs include "Welfare Music," "Blackland Farmer," "Mr. President, Have Pity on the Working Man," "Down to the Well," "Wrecking Ball," and six others.


Add 1041 Rachel´s

Rachel's' 1999 album, Selenography, presents more of their thoughtful, expressive, nearly unclassifiable compositions. Many of the 12 pieces here grew from live performances and were nurtured in the group's home studio, blossoming into works with a cosmic and rustic theme. The harpsichords on "Honeysuckle Suite," the gentle interplay of violas and piano on "Kentucky Nocturne," and the subtly dissonant guitars and vibes of "An Evening of Long Goodbyes" prove that Rachel's' already complex and beautiful sound continues to mature.


add 1040 Tartar lamb

Review Summary: A lesson in the experimental and minimal from Kayo Dot front man.

Toby Driver in the past two years has been quite the prolific artist. Releasing his debut solo album, a collection of intensely precise and planned compositions, in late 2005 on Tzadik was his first attempt to distance himself from the extremely epic release "Choirs of the Eye" that had made his band Kayo Dot a critical and underground favorite. Kayo Dot also released their second LP in early 2006; "Dowsing Anemone with Copper Tongue" was an experiment in the subtle and drawn out. Sure, "Choir"'s strong emotional crescendos were present in "Dowsing", but gone were their epic conclusions. These spots were instead replaced with explosions of noise or ten minutes of drifting guitar work. As Toby himself stated, he felt "Choirs of the Eye" was perfection in what it had attempted to do, so instead of following what most "metal" bands would've done and staying put in his popular musical formula, Toby tried to do something different.

With the release of "Sixty Metonymies", Toby has finally reached the full sound he has been hinting at since his solo release almost two years ago. A sonically sparse and repetitive listen that is referred to by its own composer as a composition built "in such a way that each figure can be heard as metonymical to each other", "Sixty Metonymies" is a dizzying recording that cycles through such a vast cycle of arrangements in such a short time that it'll certainly leave the listener bewildered upon first listen. Certainly Toby's other projects have also had this stigma attached to them, but moments like the intense full band explosion in "The Manifold Curiosity" left the listener some memorable or familiar portion of the song to latch on to on further listen. "Sixty Metonymies" is devoid of these trigger moments and almost completely removed from vocal performance. To describe it as "catchy" would be the overstatement of the decade.

On this recording Toby and Mia Matsumiya's excellent performance is accented by "extended percussionist" Andrew Greenwald and horn player Tim Byrnes of the group Friendly Bears. Greenwald's style of percussion is a fantastic addiction to the bizarre composition of "60 Metonymies". Rarely relying on the traditional, his implication of various objects such as stray metals flavors the more "compositional" parts of the piece with an urgency of modernism. While Greenwald's performance is one of a kind, trumpet player Byrnes is seemingly invoking the kind of playing that was a staple on Kayo Dot's "Dowsing Anemone with Copper Tongue" It gives the trumpet performance a sort of "we've already heard this" feel and while it isn't necessarily distracting it is somewhat disappointing. Toby's guitar playing is mostly focused on seemingly replicating a piano but his subtle implication of selected chord phrasing gives the piece a more varied feel. Toby is able to prolong an otherwise excessive repetitiveness by always casually advancing into more beautiful and interesting melodies. Mia finally seems to expose her prowess as the group's most experienced player. Her usage of various extended techniques is at the same time virtuous and restrained. Tartar Lamb once again shows her as a key player in any setting, not unlike say a musician like Eric Dolphy who even in his performances of other's works added so much to the playing that without him or her in Mia's case the piece would fall apart. Finally, while Toby's vocal performance is not featured very often when he does add slight breathing, whistling or the final monologue it is a breath of fresh almost childish air.

"60 Metonymies" is yet another emotionally and compositionally brilliant addition to Toby Driver's resume. It is obvious that Toby has mastered his own vision of minimalism with this record and it'll be interesting to see where he goes next. Conquering one's perception of the both the entirely bombastic and entirely reserved is not an easy task but one has to question where Toby will go from here. Kayo Pop? I'm sure like many of his gracious fan base, the next release associated with one of the most interesting composers of our time will not only challenge my sense of music but Toby's own. And that is where Tartar Lamb succeeds, they are not saturated in the idea of pleasing fans but instead just themselves. On the way to record this album Tartar Lamb performed a variety of shows across the north half of the U.S. I was lucky enough to persuade them to come to my home town of State College, Pennsylvania and after the performance Toby, Mia and I listened to an unmastered copy of "60 Metonymies". Where most artists would've grown bored or unimpressed with a piece they'd been working of for two years, Toby and Mia seemed just as fascinated with the recording as me. Pointing out subtle percussion parts, discussing each others' techniques, and even joking about the conclusion, it was obvious that the same devoted and massively appreciative fan base of Toby Driver is such because it reflects his same feelings towards his music. Few artists' work resonates in me the way Toby's does and Tartar Lamb is no different; emotional, interesting, and original.


add 1039 Kayo dot

If ever there were a difficult band to pin down, Kayo Dot is it. The group's website describes them simply: "Kayo Dot is an experimental rock/modern composition ensemble currently based in New York City." That's correct, but it is also far too generic a term to capture them accurately. Kayo Dot was born form the ashes of prog-metal band Maudlin of the Well. Originally a quintet, KD began its recording career with Choirs of the Eye on John Zorn's Tzadik imprint in 2003, this was followed by Dowsing Anemone with Copper Tongue on Robotic Empire in 2006, with three members leaving the fold, and vocalist Mia Matsumiya joining the rank and file with original members Toby Driver and Greg Massi. 2008's Blue Lambency Downward produced by Randall Dunn finds the band on Hydra Head, reduced to just Driverand Matsumiya with a slew of guests including saxophonists Skerik and Hans Teuber with Charlie Zeleny playing drums. Dunn helps out on sound effects and synth design; there is a pair of cameos by percussionists Dave Abramson and B.R.A. D.. Musically, the set is bookended by two pieces in the ten-minute range -- the title cut that opens it and "Symmetrical Arizona," that closes it -- with five shorter pieces in between that range from over six minutes to just under three.
The opening cut begins as an airy, seamless, beautifully and expansively constructed psychedelic pop tune that begins to disintegrate into tempered noise, reverbed guitars, and tautly driven kit work, and then just takes off into other sonic realms. This may be experimental music, but it carries a sense of rock dynamic, vanguard classical harmonies, and shifting time signatures. It is simultaneously very weird yet utterly accessible. The long instrumental section in the middle is brought back to Driver's elaborate sense of song structure -- think of Annette Peacock's most elaborate songforms as arranged by Andy Partridge and played by Magma at their most effusive and you realize the rather boundary-disintegrating music we're talking about here -- because even that description doesn't capture it. "Clelia Walking" begins with electric guitar power that sounds like the Swans covering Therion tunes, but just as quickly it gives way to Matsumiya's lithe, gauzy violin coming from the softer reaches of Witold Lutoslawski before finally meeting Eastern modalities as sung by Jeff Buckley. "Right Hand Is the One I Want," clocking in at just under seven minutes, begins as a shuffling waltz, with piano, snare, cymbals, strummed guitars, and outside melodies that are just heavenly. When the reeds and winds enter, they feel like André Hodier's modernist jazz-playing cabaret music and underscore the entire melodic and harmonic structure of the tune. But there are no edges as strange and foreign sounding as this is. The sense of drift and shimmer in the track is so gorgeous you wouldn't care what Driver was singing, and even when things become more formless and shiftless, it's as if it is the most natural occurrence in the time-space continuum, especially when Matsumiya's violin begins a tango-flavored gypsy tune in its own warm sonic bath. "The Awkward Wind Wheel" is somewhat noiser and feels like the downtown New York scene playing its own tribute to the King Crimson of the early Adrian Belew era à la Discipline. It will take a minimum of several spins all the way through to even try to grasp all that's going on here. It's fair to say that perhaps you shouldn't have to work that hard, yet there is no real work involved; there is only delight, amusement, humor, and sometimes awe. While Kayo Dot is impossible to pigeonhole or put into a single box, they also make avant music you can hum to.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

20 de mayo

Hoy no hay música. Solamente silencio

Monday, May 19, 2014

add 1038 McCoy Tyner

Although McCoy Tyner has never been well known for playing with guitarists, there have been precedents. Technically on the electric mandolin and amplified guitar, John Abercrombie was part of the 4 X 4 sessions, acoustic guitaristEarl Klugh was a participant on the Inner Voices recording, Ted Dunbar was in the group for Asante, and Carlos Santana joined Tyner for the ill-conceived album Looking OutTyner prominently accompanied Grant Green for legendary Blue Note label classics. So this may not be a new thing, but certainly something the great pianist has been removed from in general terms. Guitars pairs Tyner and his reunited bulletproof trio of bassist Ron Carter and drummer Jack DeJohnette with contemporary performers Marc RibotJohn Scofield, banjoist Béla FleckDerek Trucks, and Bill Frisell. The results are mixed no matter which string player you favor, with Tyner's role as a legend surely intimidating any of his disciples to a degree. But for these recordings, the sound and feeling of the end product is clearly decipherable. Ribot especially seems out of place, resorting to power chords during "Passion Dance," but rebounding on the soulful version of "500 Miles" and rallying on the peaceful but electrified "Improvisation 1." WithDerek TrucksTyner's basic "Slapback Blues" is treated as the title suggests, while the 3/4 "Greensleeves" is typical, but the raga approach that Trucks emphasizes in his band would have been a welcome choice. Scofield is clearly the most comfortable with Tyner, swinging easily through "Mr. P.C." and playfully skirting away from the line of "Blues on the Corner." On his three tracks, Fleck is surprisingly the most compatible, working with a deep modal Middle Eastern feel on "Tradewinds," flying fleet and much quicker than the pianist during "Amberjack," and evoking "My Favorite Things" in a quaint mood. The two pieces with Frisell merge together as one in an homage to the world guitaristBoubacar Traore, with "Boubacar" meditative before the rhythm section explodes, then the loose "Baba Drame" works as an extension. Whereas Tyner's playing these days is beyond reproach, and the contributions of Carter andDeJohnette are always welcome, there's an aura of true amity on most of the tracks, but an imbalanced awkwardness on others. An accompanying DVD with various camera angles provides perspective and insight into how this music was created, but also where Tyner's giant visage might dwarf some of these plectrists, and not others. It's an interesting slice in time, but not a definitive recording in Tyner's legendary and lengthy musical career.


add 1037 Iris DeMent

Iris DeMent isn't a pop star, although she probably could have been had she been at all interested in playing that game. She's a careful, detailed songwriter with a confessional edge and a good sense of narrative, and her voice is a marvelous instrument that seems to rise out of the previous century. Her themes are universal -- love (both good and bad), loss, faith, memories -- and few singers or songwriters can convey the kind of passionate emotional distance she brings to all of this. Sing the Delta (the Arkansas delta, not the Mississippi one) is her first new album of original material in 16 years (her previous album, 2004's Lifeline, was a collection of her versions of the gospel hymns she sang as a child), and it fits right into the quilt of her earlier albums, full of searching, yearning songs that ache more than they bounce for joy, all set to sparse, piano-led arrangements that focus in and around her vocals without intrusion. Like all of her albums, it's down-key, wrenching passion out of things long lost, and one can't help but be amazed at the sincerity and desperation DeMent brings to every line she sings here. The songs are well written, detailed, poetic, and centered on her childhood, her father, her mother, her brothers and sisters, all those ties and bonds one carries all through life -- all well and good, at least as confessionals go. The problem here is that Sing the Delta sounds a bit like a great short story writer singing autobiographical stories rather than delivering songs. There's little that moves one to sing along here, unfortunately. The tempos are all slow, dramatic, and melancholy. The one song that actually features a little bounce in its rhythm, "The Night I Learned How Not to Pray," is a sad, harrowing account of a young brother's death, and while it's a great and emotionally effective song, it hardly feels redemptive. Everything here seems to fade into the same slow waltz, and while the lyrics shine, lyrics alone do not make for a good song. The best here, like "The Night I Learned How Not to Pray," the slow gospel burn of the opener "Go on Ahead and Go Home," "If That Ain't Love" (a portrait of DeMent's father), the spunky and wise "Mama Was Always Tellin' Her Truth" (a portrait of her mother), and the beautiful "There's a Whole Lotta Heaven," have choruses that rise out of their stories and connect -- one can actually sing along with them, which is the quickest way to bring a song into another's life. Too often Sing the Delta sounds like a poetry reading with great lines, wonderful metaphors, and a hard-earned wisdom on display -- a bit like Dolly Parton if she had gone to Harvard -- and there's no denying the talent, sincerity, and craft on display here. But a song is most a song when someone else can sing along to it, pull it into her or his own life, and make it speak inside that life, and there just isn't a whole lot of that on this album, impressive as it is.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

add 1036 Boubacar Traoré

A nice album from one of the original Malian bluesmen -- the great Boubacar Traoré (known originally on Radio Mali as Kar Kar). Originally, hits like "Mali Twist" made him famous in his homeland, though he disappeared for some time from the limelight, emerging after his wife's death to record albums like this one. The style is vaguely similar to other Malian bluesers such as Ali Farka Touré: a relatively stripped-down format with little to no accompaniment. The accompaniment on the album comes from a calabash (gourd used as percussion). The combination of his voice and tender picking style leads to a rather sentimental mood for a few of the works, and the faster ones have more of that reminiscent John Lee Hooker/Ali Farka Touré style. The main difference is in the vocal abilities -- Boubacar is actually singing, much more than the others; melody is important to the vocal section of the songs. For fans of African blues, this would be a definite pick. For newcomers, it might not be a bad introduction at all, though more of an easing in could perhaps be found in Taj Mahal's efforts with Toumani Diabate.

aCa y acá

add 1065 Iris DeMent

A remarkable debut, Infamous Angel established Iris DeMent as one of the greatest artists of her generation. With her gift for poignant, confessional songwriting and a voice that makes raw beauty seem like a brand new thing, she invokes the elemental magic of the Carter Family while sounding as fresh and modern as John Prine (who, not surprisingly, is one of her biggest champions). DeMent's concerns are largely family and tradition, and many of these songs deal with memories of life and love. Her Carter influence is revealed in a spirited cover of the classic "Fifty Miles of Elbow Room" as well as "Mama's Opry," a tribute to her mother, who also sings lead on "Higher Ground." These are wonderful, but DeMent's greater talent is the ballad, and she delivers an astonishing handful, including "When Love Was Young," "Sweet Forgiveness," and "After You're Gone," a tribute to her dying father that is so profoundly affecting that one is rendered nearly helpless listening to it. In the end, one finishes this record somber but refreshed by DeMent's charming, almost naïve, outlook on life. That naïveté isn't an act, either -- DeMent claims in her liner notes that she's never thought of herself as a great singer. She couldn't be more wrong, and listeners can thank heaven that she changed her mind, for this is an album to be cherished and played as long as one has life to listen.


Saturday, May 17, 2014

add 1034 Rez Abbasi

At some level, it's almost unbelievable that the musician who recorded 2006's Bazaar is the same one who helmsThings to ComeRez Abbasi has grown exponentially, not only as a guitarist -- his style has been inherently recognizable ever since he started gracing sessions in the early part of the decade -- but as a composer and arranger as well. Abbasi has played on a couple of significant recordings in the past couple of years, not the least of which isRudresh Mahanthappa's Kinsmen (issued on the Pi Recordings imprint), which is at the very least spiritually related to this effort. Mahanthappa returns the favor here, appearing as part of a band that also includes Vijay Iyer on piano;Johannes Weidenmüller on bass; drummer Dan WeissAbbasi's wife, Kiran Ahluwalia, on vocals on half the tracks; and cellist Mike Block, who appears in a couple of places. The music on Things to Come is a beautiful meld of South Asian and vanguard jazz, some folk elements, and an intense meld of rhythmic and harmonic approaches that are utterly seamless. The set opens with "Dream State," with strings that approach the sound of a harp and are quickly subsumed by a contrapuntal engagement by Iyer and Abbasi's acoustic. The knotty piano line continues, but Abbasi's electric guitar soon replaces the acoustic and Weidenmüller and Weiss enter the fray, offering a rich blend of melodies and counterpoint, and the shifting time signatures pull the listener in a number of directions without once pulling apart the complex harmonic structure of the tune.
On "Air Traffic," as Abbasi's electric states a dreamy opening theme, caressed by Weiss' restrained cymbal work and some augmented, architecturally rich chords by IyerAhluwalia enters with the lyric, offering a traditional South Asian folk melody. The bandmembers begin to engage with her up front and one another more subtly, until what is left is a beautifully elegant quilt of sound. Knotty solos by Mahanthappa and Iyer take the tune outside a bit, and the rhythm section floats with it, keeping it anchored. This tune in particular provides a glimpse of the rest of the magic to come everywhere (although favorites include the swinging "Hard Colors," the title cut, and the ballad "The Realities of Chromaticism"). Abbasi's complex lyric lines -- which were all composed on instruments other than guitar -- engage his sidemen to solo through them and arrive at a destination that creates yet another possibility. Iyer in particular pushes the melodic frame of each tune with his percussive, intricate approach to counterpoint, whereas Mahanthappatraverses along the outside of these edges and Abbasi changes his soloing style for each tune. But it's the rhythm section that astonishes most on this set. The variations on themes, on other rhythmic structures, and on striated time figures are all offered to the listener as a unified whole. Ultimately, Things to Come is, like Kinsmen and a few other recordings, more proof in the pudding that the integration of South Asian music into the jazz idiom and its tradition is complete, creating entirely new possibilities for both. This is not an album that sums up the past, but brilliantly and soulfully points to new futures

add 1033 kitka

On the face of it, this could seem a real oddity -- an eight-piece American female vocal group singing Balkan music in a distinctly Eastern European style. But far from coming across as an appropriation of style and material, instead this sounds beautifully authentic and loving, an homage to the region that inspired it. Taking songs of winter as its starting point, Kitka delve back to find beauty, and succeed very well. A single listen to "Byla Cesta," for example, with only two verses, is enough to transport anyone to a chapel in Bulgaria, while the carol "Alilo" brings to mind those women's choirs who had an impact on world music in the late '80s. It's a reminder as top how powerful the human voice really is. "Betlehem, Betlehem," taking from the singing of the great Marta Sebestyen, works a single voice against violin to wonderfully spare effect. "Hubava Milka," a Christmas song, offers sublime harmonies to fend off the cold, and "Tsarsko Momche Kon Sedlae" is redolent of a crossroads with the Middle East in the work on tambura and dumbek drum. Throughout, it's the voices that captivate and enthrall. These women might not have been raised in the Balkans, but they feel it in their bones.


add 0132 Emmylou Harris

In 1995, Emmylou Harris made a decisive break with her creative past, recording the album Wrecking Ball with producer Daniel Lanois and abandoning the traditional country purity of her best-known work for lovely but spectral musical landscapes and exploring her muse as a songwriter in a way she had never attempted before. After Wrecking BallHarris recorded three albums in which she made the most of her new creative freedom and honed her impressive gifts as a songwriter, but All I Intended to Be, her first new release in five years, finds her reaching back toward a sound and style that recall the country and folk influences of her earlier work. But All I Intended to Be is clearly the work of an artist who is looking to the past entirely on her own terms, and with the lessons learned since 1995 clearly audible at all times. All I Intended to Be was produced by Brian Ahern, who was behind the controls for most of her albums of the '70s and '80s, and it features a handful of session players who worked with Harris and Ahern in the past, while Harris' occasional partner in harmony Dolly Parton contributes backing vocals to "Gold" (as does Vince Gill). The album's largely acoustic textures manage to sound both homey and fresh; if the melodies and the arrangements nod politely to traditional country sounds (and hold hands on "Gold"), the space in the production and the unpretentious artfulness of the songs reflect an intelligence and restraint largely absent from country music in the new millennium. Harris wrote or co-wrote six of these 13 songs, leaving more room for covers than on Red Dirt Girl orStumble into Grace, but the tone of the album is consistent throughout, and she brings a streamlined passion to material by Patty GriffinBilly Joe Shaver, and Merle Haggard that makes them her own. (Harris also writes and sings several tunes with Kate and Anna McGarrigle in what continues to be a truly inspired collaboration.) And as always, the most memorable thing about All I Intended to Be is Emmylou Harris' voice; there are few singers in any genre with a greater natural skill and better instincts, and as wonderful as these songs are and as fine a band as she and Ahernhave on hand, it's her glorious voice that turns these simple materials into gold, and she only improves with the passage of the years. The surfaces of this album may seem less bold than the albums that immediately preceded it, but All I Intended to Be is the work of a consummate artist who is still reaching out to new places even when she points to her creative history.