PopMatters Music for the Gifted (or, December 2011 Presents)

by PopMatters Staff

10 November 2011


U2 and more...

Lobi Traore
Bwati Kono

Malian guitar wizard Lobi Traore passed away in 2010, but still had one unreleased album’s worth of material recorded. Bwati Kono is a stellar collection of tracks recorded live in a pair of Bamoko nightclubs, and the recordings find Traore in killer form. He’s ably assisted by backing musicians Lamine Soumano on bass, Moribo Kouyate on balafon (xylophone), and Sekou Diarra and Adama Sissoko on percussion. This is a strong set of gritty, electrified Afro-rock which deserves the attention of anyone currently a fan of better-known figures in the genre, such as Salif Keita, Baaba Maal, Ali Farka Toure, or his son Vieux.—David Maine

Achtung Baby (20th Anniversary Edition)

Right on the cusp between the end of an old age and the start of a new, the biggest band in the world reinvented itself with a record that perfectly captured the mixture of euphoria, hopefulness, and uncertainty that permeated Europe as the Cold War came to an end. As the Iron Curtain was pried open and nations were either reunified or blasted apart at the heady dawn of the 1990s, Irish superstar band U2 rethought its entire approach for the daring 1991 LP Achtung Baby, an album that saw the group undergoing a drastic stylistic and image overhaul—one it managed to pull it off without a hitch, as five hit singles, several million copies sold, and scores of effusive critical kudos later attest.

In case you don’t own U2’s best (and best-selling) record, the 20th anniversary commemorative program intends to cater to your needs. The second disc—containing fine non-albums tracks like “Salome”, remixes and alternative versions, and a clutch of covers (Lou Reed’s “Satellite of Love”, the Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black”, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son”)—exhibits a lighter and more playful character that provides a fuller picture of the Achtung Baby era because, while certainly a refreshing blast of color and invigoration compared to Rattle and Hum, Achtung Baby was still a predominantly somber affair. However, given the role of levity was properly assumed by the sprawling Zoo TV tour—a garish spectacle of information overload accompanied by numerous on-stage televisions screens, crank calls to world leaders, and Bono playing his ironic characters to the hilt—undertaken to promote the album, a much more sensible and riveting companion would have been a CD or DVD of previously-unreleased live performances from the period.

To truly get your money’s worth, you need to plunk down a hefty amount for the massive 10-disc (six CDs, four DVDs) “Super Deluxe” box set, or the ludicrously hefty “Uber Set”, which trumps the Super Deluxe package by adding vinyl records to the mix and topping it all off with a replica of Bono’s Fly shades. Differences aside, both sets function as the ultimate encapsulation of the Achtung Baby entity, adding to the Deluxe Edition’s contents by throwing in the Zoo TV: Live from Sydney concert DVD, the new documentary From the Sky Down, two discs of remixes, a prototypical “Kindergarten” version of the LP where the mix is more stripped-down and different takes of Bono’s vocals are used, and even the follow-up album Zooropa (1993), which was recorded during the Zoo TV sojourn and is very much cut from the same cloth as its predecessor. It’s an embarrassment of riches—even the B-sides disc is expanded slightly—that will keep listeners happily immersed in the Achtung Baby experience for days.—AJ Ramirez

Gillian Welch
The Harrow & The Harvest

This CD gives us ten more examples of what makes Gillian Welch & David Rawlings great: high lonesome harmonies, beautifully judged musicianship, exquisite songcraft, and a relationship with tradition that is both serious and playful. The gospel according to Welch and Rawlings is one that embraces darkness alongside light, pain alongside joy, the briar as one with the rose, clear-eyed truth and hazy obfuscation. As a gathering-in of all that’s best about their duality, The Harrow & The Harvest eschews the cosmic Plough and settles instead for the blessings of a more earthly crop.—Richard Elliott

William Elliott Whitmore
Field Songs

Whitmore plays banjo and acoustic guitar and sings with a deep, gravelly voice as rich Iowa’s black soil. But he’s not singing just about the Hawkeye State. He universalizes the situation by putting its historical and geopolitical contexts the way a Woody Guthrie or Pete Seeger might. He sings of those who lost when the West was won as a result of homesteading, and how that was superseded by the injustice of “the Manifest Destiny of factory farms.” He knows that those who come from south of the border seeking work today are no different than he is.—Steve Horowitz

Tom Waits
Bad As Me

For years the serpentine Tom Waits has been daring us to bite the apple, goading us to see the chaos that ensues. What good has holding back done us? What we’re learning as we camp out in city parks is that, whether the Occupy Wall Street protests create change or not, there’s freedom in embracing those frustrated thoughts in your head and putting them into some action. Waits has given us another brilliant album in Bad As Me, his best in a long while, but he also lays down a gauntlet. Waits travels his own path, though he dons new shoes here, and flies in the face of how things should be. He invites us to join him—these songs are as accessible as they are difficult—but we know that, no matter how much he insists it, we’re not ready to be as bad as Tom Waits. But it’s something to aspire to, occupiers.—Matthew Fiander

Red Barked Tree

In 2011, Wire is here to personally remind us not only that they used to be great, but also that they’re still capable of great things. Over 11 tracks of fantastically unapproachable guitars and vocals, of deceivingly simple rhythms and unswerving purpose, Wire sound perfectly comfortable in their own skin and sense of history on Red Barked Tree.—Crispin Kott



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