Songs From the Road (CD & DVD) Luther Allison
Ruf / Amerimage Spectra

Author:
KFM

Luther Allison was a scant 18 years old on the day, in 1957, when Muddy Waters—then the birghtest ascending star of the newly huge Chicago Blues scene—  brought him on stage to play second-string to Muddy's epic, meandering guitar work. The live set presented for your viewing and listening pleasure here dates from 1997. Fourty years later. Unbeknownst to him at the time, it was to be one of Allison's last performances. In July of 1997 this blues master was diagnosed with a tumor on his lung that had already spread to his brain. Scarcely a month later Luther Allison was dead.

The crowd that had gathered at the Montreal Jazz Festival couldn't have known that such a fate was so near. Nor is any viewer likely to believe it, watching as Allison effortlessly slithers across scales, seeming to levitate above the stage with his Les Paul. The performance is astounding, and is filled with cosmic hooks and stony, rambling solos, any one of which might provide the backbone for a great dance or hip hop track today.

Allison is remembered as a warm, inviting personality and a gentle friend. In the footage here, and on the accompanying CD, we witness these characteristics, to be sure, but also provided with an uncommon opportunity to watch one of the greats of field drain every ounce of love and passion out on stage for an enthralled audience.

Editor's Note: Luther Allison was the man to book at blues festivals in the summer of '97. In 1994 he made a huge come-back, breaking into the mainstream with a contract with Alligator Records.

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Harmonicopia Jay Gaunt
Self Released

Author:
KE

Jay Gaunt’s lifelong passion for the blues harmonica and guitar comes through in his album “Harmonicopia.”  The album is blues based but dabbles as well in blues- jazz, blues- funk and blues-rock.  This man can dye just about anything blue!  His constant touring is evident in his band’s tight delivery of original songs and covers. 

The strongest songs were the covers.  His rendition of the Muddy Waters’  “Louisiana Blues” shows his ability to make the most of his own and his mucisians talents.  His wailing harmonica and percussive guitar bends well with Steve Potts solid and subtle drums and Victor Wainwrights growling  vocals.  Sometimes, the music felt a little formal and slick but his cover of Gregg Allman’s “Midnight Rider” showed a mischievious, even perhaps, demonic edge and his clean, limber harmonica chops.    His version of Bobby Charles’ song “Why Are People like that” meets and exceeds the requirements for soulful New Orleans blues rock.  The album’s final song, a cover of Peter Green’s “Rattlesnake Shake” shows a love of traditional, old fashioned blues, and takes you on some pleasant little jaunts with his noodling guitar solos. 

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(Icon) Puddle of Mudd
Flawless / Geffen / Universal

Author:
KFM

Generally speaking, the albums issued by Universal's "Icon" imprint of greatest hits convey a good value to valued customers. The choices of artists don't always make a ton of sense (witness the inclusion of No Doubt, whose entry into the Icon series was reviewed here several weeks back), but by bringing fans favorite songs together in one convenient jewel case, they do an important service to that fraction of listeners who wouldn't prefer to simply download the tracks that they love one at a time from iTunes or elsewhere.

That cannot be said about Icon's Puddle of Mudd release. This is a crime against the listener and a crime against music. In full disclosure, I must admit that I've never been able to find any redeeming qualities in Puddle of Mudd. Beyond a crime against music, I find them to be a crime against humanity: someone should notify the Hague. And yet, Puddle of Mudd surely has some fans out there: young men, who, having recently graduated Jr. High School, discover that they have the pocket change necessary to pick up a greatest hits record from their beloved Puddle.

It is precisely those young fans who I think of when I write that this record is devoid of value: fully half of the record comes from the two most recent Puddle of Mudd releases (neither of which contained any real "hits") and the other half is already owned by anyone who can bare to listen to this sort of drivel. With Puddle of Mudd, the Icon series makes a mockery of itself.

Editor's Note: A group so amused by toddlers urinating that they put a picture of one on their first album. It's all down hill from there.

Late But Great

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Tailgate Trailer Choir
Show Dog / Universal

Author:
KFM

The big country music radio stations love joke songs. The best of the pack surely garner innumerable requests from countless dudes in pick-up trucks for whom the chuckles are a much needed stimulant. In that sense such songs do America an important service: they keep tired white guys awake at the wheel. Of course, they also tend to keep tired white guys financially afloat and on-stage, and sell many more records than they truly warrant.

Big Vinny—who comprises 1/2 or 2/3s of the Trailer Choir duo, depending on how you count—used to be one of those guys fighting to stay awake at the wheel. After working twelve hour days managing a fast food joint in central Tennessee, he'd drive an hour and a half, each way, every night, down to Nashville to take in the great country music scene. With all that driving, Vinny must have heard plenty of joke-songs, and likely began to compose a few himself. So it is little surprise that most of Trailer Choir's songs are of the chuckling, toe-tapping variety. On "Tailgate" the band brings together ten such songs with great success.

These are songs that glorify the things that America's working class feels itself to be shunned for: trucks, beer, wal-mart and double-wides. In some ways, such unapologetic revelry in simple pleasures is what all folk music is about. But that's about where any connection between this "country" group and American folk music ends: these are huge, bombastic sounds that harken more to Dwayne Michael Carter than to the Carter Family. And like lil' Wayne, this is more party music than campfire music. But that's exactly what Trailer Choir claims to be: party music for middle America. Get the party started today with "Tailgate."

ARTIST TO WATCH

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Long Ride Kevin Skinner
Cypress Tree

Author:
KE

Kevin Skinner was the winner of the fourth season of America’s Got Talent.  He has a really strong country voice, gritty and straightforward, worthy of comparison to the great Steve Earle.  His songwriting is a little more uneven, wavering between the strong, playable ballads of Steve Earle and the syrupy, manufactured work of Garth Brooks. 

I listened to part of the album, felt a little ambivalent and then decided to try an experiment.  It was this: I quickly downed two cans of PBR and listened to the rest of the album.  The experiment worked and I was able to go with the flow, cry a little into my beer, enjoy Skinner’s warm, gravelly tones and sentimental lyrics.  I was able to imagine myself wandering in the fields of Graves County Kentucky, Skinner’s home town, after a long day working as a chicken catcher, a job he actually did as a youth.   By the end of the album I was able to rest inside the final, nostalgic track and “find my way back home.” 

Single of the Week: "Soldier's Last Breath"

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The Greatest Story Never Told Saigon
Suburban Noize / Fort Knocks

Author:
KFM

What's really crazy about "The Greatest Story Never Told" is how close it came to becoming "the greatest record never released." After over a year in the making, subtantial critical anticipation, guest appearances from some of the biggest names in hip-hop, something happened inside Atlantic records that put the album on ice. That was in 2007. Now, after what must have felt like eons for Saigon, the record is finally on the shelves. But not from Atlantic: it's been released by Suburban Noize—a Southern California independent outfit who are more accustomed to supporting rap-metal acts and Sublime rip-offs than serious heatseekers like Saigon.

To their credit, Suburban Noize have done this record justice, at long last. Nicely packaged by the label and immaculate mixing from producer Just Blaze (of Jay-Z's Blueprint 1, Blueprint 2 and Black Album credits, among other hits), this is an intensely dense album. It's maximalist without being gimmicky, sports innovative beats without abandoning that traditional boom-bat sound, and is sharply political without giving up an ounce of toughness.

If this record had been released on schedule in 2007 it would have been one of the greatest of the year. The leading single, "Come on Baby," which features Swiss_Beatz and Jay-Z, makes incredible use of a sample from J. Geils Band's "Southside Shuffle" in a mode that anticipates Jay-Z's own hit "Death of Autotune." But the record wasn't released on time, and now "Come on Baby" sounds a little dated: production that was cutting edge when it was laid down has since been superseded by Kayne's incredible "...Fantasy" album and the beats explosion that is known as Odd Future. Saigon, now, finally on tour in support of "The Greatest Story..." has a lot of catching up to do if he's ever to live up to the forgotten promise of this record.

MIGHTY, MIGHTY!

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Less is More Marillion
Eagle Records

Author:
KE

With “Less is More” Marillion, a founding band of neo-progressive rock, have moved away from their signature sound.  This is a stripped down, acoustic version of their work, moving from a sound that resembles 70s Genesis to one that more resembles Talk Talk or Crowded House. 

The album may disappoint their fans’ expectations but it is sure to attract new fans with tastes towards pretty, melodic, down tempo songs.  The lyrics are still ambitious, addressing mythic, large themes.  And Steve Hogarth’s singing still evokes early Genesis’ Peter Gabriel sonorous grandiosity. 

Everything else, though, is scaled way down.   Less IS more tasteful, understated, low-key.   More to my taste, not to everyone’s.    People often compare this version of them to Radiohead.  I don’t hear it.  But I do love the final, bonus track, a romantic and dreamy live cover of Radiohead’s “Fake Plastic Trees.” 

Editor's Note: Marillion made their name with their lengthy, orchestral opuses and spectacle-driven live shows.

Single of the Week: "Out of This World"

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The Things We Left Behind (2 CD Set) Blue Rodeo
TeleSoul / Redeye

Author:
KFM

With twelve original studio albums over twenty-five years, and almost ceaseless touring, we could forgive Blue Rodeo if they phoned one in and put out a "greatest hits" record or a collection of outtakes. That's what "The Things We Left Behind" seems like it's going to be when you pick it up (an observation that I share with AllMusic's Hal Horowitz): the title, the double discs, the sleek packaging all bespeak a release timed to keep the fans happy.

But that's not what this is at all. Rather, Blue Rodeo are back at it, with 16 newly penned songs spread artfully across two discs.  The double disc format, and the open-folio packaging, recall the great days of Double LP concept albums—and, in fact, "The Things We Left Behind" has been issued on vinyls as well. The music makes similar references; all the tracks are carefully rendered roots-folk, with quirky, catchy hooks and quirky, meandering melodies.

Portions of the first record feel like a suprise mashing of the Dead and Wings—suprising, that is, because it's actually quite good. On "Million Miles," in particular, the melding of multiple pianos and guitars is maintained by Bob Egan's almost tantric, Grisman-esque mandolin playing. Egan, who will forever be loved for his steel guitar contributions to "Mermaid Avenue," has been playing with Blue Rodeo for well over a decade now and, along with songwriters Keelor and Cuddy, has become a core part of the band. He's a great addition to a group that continues to represent the best of what is so folk about Canada.

Editor's Note: Canada's most popular roots rock band, Blue Rodeo, became a veritable institution in their home country, although for some ungodly reason they never quite moved beyond cult status in the U.S.

LET THE GOOD TIMES ROLL

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Sing Me to Sleep: Indie Lullabies Various Artists
American Laundromat Records

Author:
KE

As an insomniac lady with a real penchant for wistful, sadness this concept is almost too much of a guilty pleasure.  “Sing me to Sleep” is a compilation of dreamy covers adapted by indie bands to work as lullabies.   Some special highlights were Stars cover of the Smith’s drifting ode to suicide, “Asleep.”   The song doesn’t lose its brooding feel, but it does make you feel that a short sleep will give you the same relief as that longer more permanent one. 

The Real Tuesday Weld give us a light, tinkly music box version of Melvina Reynolds “Little Boxes,” exemplifying their electronica tinged “antique beat.”  The stand out track is Irish band The Rest’s ambitious cover of “Pure Imagination” form Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.  Here we get more than we poor sinners could possibly deserve, a lullaby that expands to cover post-rock, tech metal, doom metal, math rock, with a complex structure and  interesting shifts in dynamics. This is one damn smart, stoney lullaby.  Casey Mecija’s version of “Dear Prudence” is gratifyingly lush and psychedelic.  

  Telekinises made the brilliant choice to cover ELO’s can’t get it out of my head which will send anyone to  sleep on a big fat cloud of electric light.  Neil Halstead’s cover of Kate Bush’s “Cloudbusting” makes me happy on so many levels it’s hard to enumerate.  Let’s just leave it at the brilliant use of banjos to bring out the folky side of Bush’s orchestral majesty. 

Even with all this, the sweet indie album may come off as a bit of a guilty pleasure.  But any remaining shame can be assuaged by the fact that all the proceeds go to help seriously ill children.  I’m going to sleep well tonight. 

Single of the Week: "Dream a Little Dream of Me" by Dala

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Where I'm Bound James Alan Shelton
Sheltone Records

Author:
Karen Elliot

James Alan Shelton, former guitarist of Ralph Stanley’s Clinch Mountain Boys, here plays comforting, lovely, full bodied versions of familiar bluegrass and folk tunes, intimately recorded in his home studio.  Although he is fully capable he dismisses the common pyrotechnic style of fingerpicking and instead gives love and respect to melody.   Using a variety of methods, the complex Shuffler cross-picking, Watson-style flatpicking, and bluesy finger-style picking on his 1946 D-28 Martin herringbone and custom built guitar he pays deceptively simple tributes to his influences-- Tom Rice, Scruggs, Maybelle Carter-- with feeling.

This is an album by a talented musician, but even more so a talented listener.  He chooses interesting versions of traditional songs and arranges them with care, such as his “Theme from Dillinger,” something he came across when he saw the 1973 film Dillinger starring Warren Oates.  The musical score from the film was adapted from a Carter Family song and he does his own atmospheric version of it.  The Traditional “Home Sweet Home” has an original arrangement with complex crosspicking  in an Eastern Kentocky style.  Many of the songs are instrumental, but on the tracks he sings, such as Woody Guthrie’s “Pastures of Plenty,” his pleasant down-home voice makes for an extra dimension of pleasure. 

Editor's Note: Shelton’s melody oriented playing emphasizes his love and respect for the way a tune is supposed to sound.

Single of the Week: "Pastures of Plenty"

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Muleskinner Blues: The Asch Recordings, Vol. 2 Woody Guthrie
Smithsonian Folkways

Author:
KFM

Guthrie is most remembered for his rousing songs of struggle: the archetype of a lone guitarist who not only entertains long-suffering laborers, but incites them to throw off the chains of capitalism in a uniquely American mode. More a poet and a performer than a "musician," it is Guthrie's stories and lyrical images that stick with us, impossible for even the great engines of the Pop Molach Machine to erase completely. He sang those stories of struggle to sing the glories of the American working class; their pathos and their potential.

But on the second disc of the Moses Asch recordings, puts a slightly different kind of struggle on display. "Muleskinner Blues" doesn't contain any songs that Guthrie penned at all. Rather, this is the great folklorist reaching into his extensive repertoire of other peoples songs. Some of these are songs about struggle, of course, but what is noteworthy hiden beneath the surface content of the song are the struggles of songwriters and musicians.

You see, as Guy Logsdon explains at some length in his meticulous liner notes for this collection, musicians in the early twentieth century often saw little or no proceeds from the recording of their material. Publishing companies and record labels "owned" the songs, and they saw all the profits, while the musician received only an advance at the time of recording. That runs completely contrary to the sharing, mutational spirit of folk music, of course, but it also means that, like Woody, most of the folks who became well-known for their original recordings the songs you hear here were never rewarded with worldly riches for their labors. The same is increasingly true again today, which should put labels on notice: they might control the intellectual property rights to all the music, but it's the musicians, who labor and play, that will have the songs in their heads and in their hearts the end of the day.

"Muleskinner Blues" is unique among the Asch recordings for not presenting any of Guthrie's own songs, but, ironically, it may be the high point in the collections musically. The songs are more varied than most of the batch, and include rare recordings of Guthrie playing fiddle (his take on "Rye Straw" is quite impressive). They also offer an opertunity to think through the multiple, competing genealogies of the folk canon: Woody's version of "Bed on the Floor" is squeaky-clean after Jimmie Rodgers, whereas nearly a decade before these recordings Alan Lomax talked Jelly Roll Morton into putting the filthy, raunchy, hysterical lyrics that Morton recalled from New Orleans whore-houses to wax.

A must-have for sincere Guthrie fans, this record should also be of interest to anyone who cares about where country/western and folk music comes from and the struggle it took to get here.

Editor's Note: Woody recorded with absolute fidelity, wit and grace the struggles and celebrations of the working class.

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Down for Double John Burnett Orchestra with Special Guest Buddy DeFranco
Delmark Records

Author:
KE

“To swing is important and that’s what my band does.” The John Burnett Orchestra’s “Down for Double” is a lively, loving tribute to the great swing big bands--  Basie, Miller, Buddy Rich and Duke Ellington.  Burnett carefully selected Chicago’s finest swinging musicians and took on the role of drill master to achieve the ultimate “rhythm consciousness.”   At the same time that the band achieves seamless group unity, the solos have individual flare, as in Buddy DeFranco’s clarinette solos on the salute to Gene Krupa, “Out of Nowhere.”

While some of the tracks are a bit too faithful to original recordings to achieve their own distinctive voice, there are some wonderful surprises such as the epic version of the standard “Sing, Sing, Sing,” an elegant medley, with surreal segue ways into unexpected tunes like Pink Panther, Bad, Bad Leroy Brown and Perfidia.  Here, the frenetic blend of Buddy DeFranco’s clarinet, Frank Catalano’s tenor sax and Terry Connel’s trumpet glide into languid interludes.  A section with a verse from “Sentimental Journey” sung in low, dulcet tones by Dana Legg is spooky and sentimental at once, bringing something fresh and thoughtful to the iconic repertoire.

Single of the Week: "In a Mellow Tone"

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To Call Out In The Night [Enhanced] Pharmakon MTL
Bongo Beat / Burnside

Author:
KFM

When Jacques Derrida, in performing deconstruction of "pharmakon" in his famous essay "Plato's Pharmacy," demonstrates the indeterminacy of the term, he landed upon what would become the exemplary case of his method and, it seems, ended up somewhat popularizing the ancient Greek word. In it's briefest gloss, it suffices to say that, for Derrida, "pharmakon" carries, always, a trace of two contradictory meanings: it is always both poison and cure.

Restricted to equal brevity, or upon initial listen, we might be given to conclude that this simply identifies Pharmakon MTL as psuedo intellectual and somewhat passé. But allowed further space, and on subsequent playing, the connections run both deeper and more convincing: if this is music that is a drug, it is a subtle drug that may have unexpected benefits; if it is medicinal, it surely has some side-effects. The Montreal-based collective refer to this, explicitly, when they describe themselves as analogous to "substances humans use for exploration and cathartic release."

These days such phrases train us to expect a collection of binaural beats carefully planned to elicit an intoxicating physiological response in the listener. That's not at all what's happening here: the strange, meandering soundscapes that Pharmakon MTL release are entirely improvisational. With one foot in "trance," and one foot in "spoken word," and both hands in the kooky jar, it's hard to say exactly what Pharmakon MTL is. Maybe that's the real connection to Derrididian deconstruction: they escape, or possible implode, determinacy, but revel in examination.

 

NEW ARTIST OF THE WEEK

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Jug Band Extravaganza Jim Kweskin
Folk Era Records / Infinity

Author:
KE

The rediscovery of the jug band, a traditional folk band with homemade instruments adapted from ordinary objects--- washtubs, washboards, spoons, etc--- was a central development in the 60s folk revival.  Young musicians, such as the Lovin’ Spoonful’s John Sebastian,  gathered around Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Music and thrilled to the raw tunes of the Memphis Jug Band or the Dixieland Jug Blowers.  The Jug Band Extravaganza at the Great American Music Hall, was organized by Jim Sweskin, one of the central participants in this revival as part of a launch of his film Chasin’ Gus’ Ghost, a documentary charting this remarkable movement.

I knew as soon as I put on the record that this was no mere historical exercise, I was in for a good time.  And I was right because: a) Anyone who doesn’t love good jug band jamboree has a heart of stone, b) The whole show is tight, displaying a mastery of the upbeat, party-oriented side of American folk music. c) The lovely mandolin/harmonica blend in the raucous version of “My Old Man” d) The general feeling of exuberance, something that can’t be faked, e) The contagious audience delight at getting to sing along, f) the varied textures and instrumentations, a favorite was the raw moaning singing in the track “Wild Ox Moan.” 

So get this album and have so much fun you don’t realize that someone slipped a history lesson into your Wild Turkey.

Single of the Week: "This Will Bring You Back" by William Shade

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Heatin Up: Cool Tunes for Hot Days Various Artists
Starbucks /Rhino Records

Author:
KE

Okay, you can’t get around the fact that it’s not exactly cool  to have a Starbucks compilation in your record collection.  It is, however, always a very cool, hip thing to have one or preferably many Rhino Records compilations in your record collection.  And the hits on this comp. just can’t be argued with.  You know all these songs, and you really, really want to hear them, even if you only know this in your unconscious atavistic brain.  The theme is general: vintage, classic, R&B dominated with a good seasoning of country, doo-wop, surf guitar, jazz.  The hits are not exactly obscure, and some are a little too obvious to be addictive such as Bobby Darin’s “Splish Splash” and the Clovers “Love Potion No. 9.” 

 These moments of hum drum are  more than compensated for by the presence of such classic tunes as Jimmie Rodgers’ “Kisses Sweeter than Wine,” a stand-out fifties country song that retains echoes of previous renditions, the haunting original Irish folk version and the Weavers multilayered. Full-throated classic. Then there’s dick Dale and his Del-Tones’ ever-welcome driving, staccato, Greek flavored surf guitar treat “Miserlou.”  Soon, we come to the best (novelty) song on earth, the careening, cackling, growling, out-of-control, haunted house blues ballad “I Put a Spell on You.” 

The next gem is the haunting and much-covered “Sea of Love” by the wavery voiced Phil Phillips.  For me, the track that will get the most traction is the blistering, mesmerizing duet “A Fool in Love,”  by the explosive couple Ike and Tina Turner.  And the delicate Danish surf guitar hit  “Apache” was a surprisingly good rediscoverity.   If this song wasn’t actually in a Quentin Tarrentinao movie, it is nevertheless the ur-Tarrentino atmospheric hipster crowd pleaser.  So yes, I recommend this Starbucks compilation.  But don’t tell anyone.

Editor's Note: If you thought you know what human beings have done with the gift of music, you owe it to yourself to listen to this album.

Single of the Week: "Willie and the Hand Jive" by the Johhny Otis Show

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Yellow Tag Mondays The Farewell Drifters
Thirty Tigers / Heart Squeeze

Author:
KFM

Generally speaking the term "newgrass" lost any use. It is bandied about and used to brand bands from the Seldom Scene to Nickel Creek, and has thus been spread to thin to be particularly descriptive. Yet the "newgrass" is the best way I can describe The Farewell Drifters, and they just might be pushing some substance back into the label. 

A quintet of skilled but understated musicians, these guys stand-out from much of the Nashville scene with their conspicuous humility. Lacking both the good-ole-boy bravado of CMT stars and the hobo-come-punk-rock angst of your corner busking jug-bands gone big time, The Farewell Drifters charm crowds with sincerity. There's something of Pacific Northwest shoegaze injected into the ostensibly toe-tapping mix here, and it comes out in their songwriting as well as their slightly geeky image. The songs on "Yellow Tag Mondays" are plaintive and unpretentious: my favorite, "Old Friends" contains all the ingredients of bluegrass but could as easily have been recorded by any of the riotfolk artists.

The album title presumably refers to deeply discounted goods. In their unassuming affects The Farewell Drifters seem exactly like the kind of group that could get forgotten in the bargin-bin collecting dust. That would be a shame, as this album packs a great deal, on Yellow Tag Monday or otherwise.

SO NICE GOTTA DO IT UP TWICE! (created by the original NYC D.J., Jocko, 1955)

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Kind of Everything Jeff Telmadge
Berkalin

Author:
KE

“Sometimes you choose love.  Sometimes love chooses you.”  Jeff Talmadge felt chosen, left his job as a Texas lawyer and dove into the life of a rambling, singer songwriter. This, his fifth album shows him as a ripened musician, comfortable with his mellow country-folk talents.  He is a real storyteller and the lyrics are worth listening to.  His songs are melodic, rhythmic and feature his strong finger-picking in the style of Merle Travis. 

Sometimes the music feels a bit prosaic, but the other side of this is the way his tunes blend into the fabric of everyday life.  These songs often have the feel of wondering the streets and casually talking to friends.  Several were inspired by homeless people and street musicians the singer encountered in his travels.  The songs are simple, understated, and literate.  Those who are Townes Van Zandt fans will want to check this out. 

Single of the Week: "It'll Sure Be Cold Tonight"

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The Gift Susan Boyle
Syco / Columbia / Sony

Author:
KFM

It's hard to get down on Susan Boyle, or her producers, for making a Christmas album that is too traditional. It is a fucking CHRISTMAS ALBUM, and Boyle is tasked with appealing to everyone on Earth. Yet many critics, and a suprising number of fans, seem to be down on the reality television heroine for just that, as though we might expect this, her second album, to open with a cover of Crass or the Sex Pistols. ("I aaaaammmmmm-mmmm an annn-arrr-chist," is Johhny Rotten's lyrics slowed down to Boyle's languid tempo and in her distinctive timbre).

No, Lou Reed's "Perfect Day" is about as punk as this Christmas album gets, and is more than should have been expected. The song has, admittedly, been stripped of any associational grit through ubiquitous airplay in the wake of it's appearance on the soundtrack for "Trainspotting" (ironic, isn't it, that association with a film about junkies can actually end up white-washing an otherwise important song?). But Boyle does justice to Reed, as she does to Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" in a perverse sort of way: two songs that originally deploy biting sarcasm for a melancholic affect are reproduced here in perfect sincerity.

Sincerity pervades the remainder of "The Gift" as well, which is built entirely from Church Choir caroling standards. The highlight, surprisingly, is a duet with Amber Stassi. That you've never heard of her is unsurprising: Boyle and her handlers discovered Stassi, a paramedic from New York state, through a much-hyped talent search in an attempt to get more mileage out of Boyle's rags-to-riches fairy tale aura. The two sing "Do You Hear What I Hear?" together to great effect: though, like "Perfect Day" and "Hallelujah" the song has been stripped of its political content via repetition, it  still doubtless carries a trace of the plea for peace with which it was initially issued. And a trace of a plea for peace is the most that any Christmas Album can be expected to evoke.

Single of The Week: "Perfect Day"

If You Like Music, You'll Love This

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Sure as the Swing of a Pendulum Kill Kurt Reifler
Red Glare Records

Author:
KE

At his best Kurt Reifler does that emo-punk thing that Jeff Buckley and PJ Harvey do so well.  It’s like when the guy you know who was always so mellow finally breaks out and gets angry, he gets really angry, and you yourself feel the relief of that long awaited explosion.  Reifler  sounds like he’s  trying to be meaner than he is when he describes his music as “Robert Johnson with a lightning bolt up his ass.”

 

The track “Just Like You” is a showcase for Reifler’s full, bluesy, accusatory  voice.  Like with Jeff Buckley, there lurks a diva just below the surface of this angry young man.   I like the line this album walks between bluster and fragility, and the instrumentals also navigate the fine line between angry and melodic.  Even though some of the influences are somewhat anonymous grunge forms, this balance gives the album more emotional depth and resonance than its more recent influences.  I would like to see Reifler try his golden chords at more torch songs, to mix in with the grittier numbers.   But overall, this is an unleashing of Robert-Plantesque talent and style. 

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21 Adele
XL / Columbia

Author:
KFM

Adele makes music that as subtle refusal. It refuses genre while embrassing musical tendencies; it refuses to be tied to a leading man while bringing in dozens of the industries most skillful men; it refuses to be be simply pop while selling like hotcakes. This sort of subdued refusal is perhaps best exemplified by a quote from Adele given in an interview with the Guardian. Responding to comparisons to Amy Winehouse and Duffy, Adele suggested that lumping these women together is lazy journalism, saying that, "We're a gender, not a genre."

 

With "21" Adele, whose albums have thus far been titled for her age at the time, is old enough to drink in the states, and old enough to get into some trouble at her own, house-packing, shows. Only her second release, there is nothing sophmoric about this album, which is mature to the point of timelessness. The best, bluesy moments recall the sexy defiance of Nina Simone in the '60s. On "Rolling In The Deep" and "Set Fire to the Rain" that defiance is infused with a pop-sensibility that brings the great, melancholic radio ballads of the early '90s to mind. Elsewhere the record plays on a distinctly "country" feel, with bits of Nashville and bits of Americana making surprising, and successful counterpoints to the pipes of one of neo-souls luminaries.

BEST ALBUM OF THE WEEK

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