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Meshell Ndegeocello

The World Has Made Me the Man of My Dreams

(Emarcy; US: 25 Sep 2007; UK: 24 Sep 2007)

Review [31.Oct.2007]

20


If the world made Meshell Ndegeocello the man of her dreams, she’s one hell of a man! Ndegeocello’s man is a damn fine musician, whose sphere of influence encompasses hip-hop, jazz, funk, soul, reggae, rock, and every tweet and gurgle in between. On Dreams, the amalgam ties together in a challenging package that’s neither pretentious nor self-indulgent. Rather, it’s a spiritual journey that blends spoken word and sensual, soulful melodies across a series of multi-layered meditations. Those meditations of life, love, and spirit are elevated to the heavens with grinding bass, swirling flutes, soaring guitars, and inspired drumming. Ndegeocello’s muse is not afraid to reach beyond what a single person could possibly grab. In his/ her exploration, s/he’s “just a soul on the planet / trying to do good / be good / feel good”. If Meshell Ndegeocello is the man of her dreams, we should all dream like she does. Quentin Huff




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Spoon

Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga

(Merge; US: 10 Jul 2007; UK: 9 Jul 2007)

Review [10.Jul.2007]

19


Though technically an indie band, Spoon manages to avoid the fickle trends and tuneless derision that plague Indiedom by draining fat and pretension from the rock ‘n’ roll nub, Foreman Grill style. Its sixth LP, the absurdly titled Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, is a stubbly and supple thing dedicated to champion grooves and the iconography of rock’s heart-in-mouth diction. Over a modest 36 minutes, the album offers judicious variety of both style and theme, reimagining Motown in one track and abstract minimalism in the next, taking insufferable politicos to task and then praising stylish accessories all within the span of five minutes. The album’s catchy first single, “The Underdog”, helped Spoon snag its debut in Billboard‘s Top 10, but Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga is no mainstream compromise—this is what idiosyncrasy looks like when it’s polished and prettied. Zeth Lundy


MP3: The Underdog


Spoon - The Underdog





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Rahsaan Patterson

Wines and Spirits

(Artistry Music; US: 25 Sep 2007)

Review [5.Dec.2007]

18


Rahsaan Patterson brings a painter’s palette of sounds and emotions to Wines and Spirits. It begins with bubbling funk (“Cloud 9”), ends with a swelling orchestra (“Stars”), and mines a fair amount of musical ideas in between. Patterson expands on the strengths of his past work with songs that represent the guiding principle of his life and art: he cannot nor will not be boxed in. The songs on Wines and Spirits are emboldened by different facets of Patterson’s musical personality while his inner-struggles are threaded through the grooves. The compass of his journey points in every direction. “Water” is dreamy and womb-like, “Oh Lord (Take Me Back)” churns on his gospel-rooted voice, and “Pitch Black” takes soul to the edge of rock. Wines and Spirits illustrates, definitively, why Rahsaan Patterson is one of popular music’s most intuitively creative artists. Christian John Wikane


Rahsaan Patterson - Delirium





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The Avett Brothers

Emotionalism

(Ramseur; US: 15 May 2007)

17


Since their self-titled debut in 2000, The Avett Brothers have always held onto a certain level of modestly hard-working obscurity. Despite releasing four studio albums, two live albums, and an EP all in between rounds of continuous cross-country touring, packing themselves tightly in a van towards the next unassuming venue, the band has never exposed themselves above the greater musical radar. That changed earlier this year however, when the North Carolina trio (comprised of brothers Scott and Seth, as well as friend Bob Crawford) hit a progressive high mark with their latest album, Emotionalism. While still blending the eccentricities of old-time country, bluegrass, and folk with an approachable pop/rock sensibility, it is Emotionalism‘s romantically rural storytelling, beautiful vocal harmonies, and rudimentary arrangements that transform its polished sandpaper sound into an unforgettable addition to the Americana canon. Mike Hilleary


The Avett Brothers - Paronia In Bb Major





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Talib Kweli

Ear Drum

(Warner Bros.; US: 21 Aug 2007; UK: 3 Sep 2007)

Review [21.Aug.2007]

16


Talib Kweli must be married to the microphone. The gifted wordsmith again weds dope lyrics by the mouthful to engaging beats, this time on the mellow tip. Like any marriage, Kweli’s Ear Drum is a lesson in balance: how to do what you love and receive love for what you do. Garnering near-universal applause for his work with Mos Def and Hi-Tek, 2004’s The Beautiful Struggle received a mixed reception. On Ear Drum, Kweli acknowledges that “you can’t please everybody”, before casting his wide lyrical net across subject matter as diverse as partying, spirituality, battle rapping, and critiques from fans. Among the guests, Kweli gets crunk with UGK, croons with Norah Jones and Justin Timberlake, and trades bars with Jean Grae and KRS-One. The mood is right and the rhymes are tight. No, you can’t be all things to all people, but there’s a reward here for the attempt. Quentin Huff


Talib Kweli - Everything Man





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Ha Ha Tonka

Buckle in the Bible Belt

(Bloodshot; US: 11 Sep 2007; UK: 17 Sep 2007)

Review [12.Sep.2007]

15


A little bit country, a lotta bit rock ‘n’ roll, Ha Ha Tonka is 2007’s best band you forgot to download. While everybody was busy arguing about the degree to which an artsy Quebecois octet harnesses racial “miscegenation”, four white guys from the Ozarks rawked with enough soul to satisfy the stingiest of critical ears. Their website calls it “foot stompin’ indie rock”, but the latter distinction is merely a temporary technicality, unless you’ve still got room for Jack and Meg White in that cramped, insular little room. Ratings of 7s, 8s and 6.4s tend to speak louder with a slew of zeroes after them. Josh Timmermann


MP3: Caney Mountain
MP3: St. Nick on the Fourth in a Fervor


Ha Ha Tonka - St. Nick





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The Good, the Bad & the Queen

The Good, the Bad & the Queen

(Virgin; US: 23 Jan 2007; UK: 22 Jan 2007)

14


The most surprising aspect of this newly assembled mood-pop collective is that its sound betrays the promise of its lineup: There are no upbeat Britpopisms from Damon Albarn (Blur, Gorillaz), no bass guitar heroics from ex-Clash man Paul Simonon, precious few polyrhythmic intricacies from Afrobeat drummer Tony Allen, and Simon Tong, former guitarist for the Verve, doesn’t go near a riff. Even producer Danger Mouse keeps his distance from hip-hop branding. It’s as if each musician was instructed to play against type and focus his tunnel-vision on the creation of atmosphere, a hulking cloud of dreamlife that dissipates into terminal reality. Songs like “Herculean” and “Kingdom of Doom” throb and pulse to the rhythm of the defeated, while “History Song” and “80s Life” are shot through, respectively, with hopeful rays of dub and doo-wop. It’s inverted pop music that reflects an erratic world, a song cycle for winters of the mind that pine for seasons of greater warmth. Zeth Lundy


The Good, the Bad & the Queen - Kingdom of Doom





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Mike Farris

Salvation in Lights

(INO; US: 26 Jun 2007; UK: Available as import)

Review [25.Nov.2007]

13


Mike Farris was a stunner at this year’s Americana Music Festival in Nashville. We stumbled into his show, fleeing a mediocre show upstairs at the Mercy Lounge, not knowing what to expect from Farris at all. Well, I just about fainted from shock on the spot, thinking I was hearing a young Sam Moore belting pure Southern soul from the far-away stage. Farris is really that good. Vocally, he’s the heir to the soaring soul tenor of Moore, with his effortless and uttterly passionate delivery. His greatest strength is as a live performer, and he’s one of the finest I’ve ever seen. Check out the YouTube clip of Farris singing “Green Green Grass of Home” at the Porter Wagoner tribute during the festival to see what I mean. Even singing solo with his guitar, his music has as much of a kick as when he’s belting out numbers with full band and gospel choir. Salvation in Lights captures about half of that live powder keg, but that’s more than enough to make it a superb record. Ranging from straight-on gospel to blues and Stax-style soul, the record is grounded in Farris’ faith and his sublime musicianship. There’s a real New Orleans feel to the bulk of these tunes, as Dixielandesque horns pop in and out of songs, adding to the delightful Southern stew. Sarah Zupko


Mike Farris - Devil Don’t Sleep





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Josh Ritter

The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter

(Sony; US: 21 Aug 2007; UK: Available as import)

Review [29.Aug.2007]

12


Ritter’s 2006 effort, The Animal Years, was extremely good; it’s younger cousin is better. Among its many treasures, Historial Conquests includes what may be 2007’s most perfect little moment, a swoony love story between two nuclear missile silo employees who fall in love while doing crosswords and awaiting the end of the world, possibly in that order: “‘What five letters spell ‘apocalypse?’ she asked me / I won her over by saying ‘WWIII,’ and we smiled and we both knew that she misjudged me.” Elsewhere, Ritter shows off a mastery of piano-twinkly ‘70s pop with “Right Moves”, which is as sunny and semi-goofy as the title suggests, and a raggedy, deceptively simple stomp in the Dylan-indebted “To the Dogs or Whoever” and the Clash-indebted “Mind’s Eye”, both of which show that in addition to everything else, Ritter’s tricks include allowing his characters and himself the occasional sad smirk, even if the world is ending. Jeff Vrabel


MP3: To the Dogs or Whatever


Josh Ritter - To the Dogs or Whoever





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Mavis Staples

We’ll Never Turn Back

(Anti-; US: 24 Apr 2007; UK: 7 May 2007)

11


Among songs like “Respect Yourself” and “I’ll Take You There”, The Staples Singers’ anthems of empowerment resonated for an entire generation. We’ll Never Turn Back is the heir to this legacy. Ry Cooder assists Mavis Staples with a set of “freedom songs” that inspired those on the front lines of the Civil Rights Movement. The album features Staples’ soulful renditions of traditional gospel songs arranged by Cooder. Forty years later, wars continue to rage and resolution seems but a distant reality. There’s no shortage of issues to protest and the voice of Mavis Staples is the perfect conduit to catalyze action. Though the album slipped slightly underneath the radar of mainstream, it is well worth experiencing, if only to hear how Staples’ voice emanates hope in the current maelstrom of malcontent. Christian John Wikane


Mavis Staples - Eyes on the Prize



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