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The Holy Ghost, Get Your Funeral Shoes (Clearly)
Hailing from Brooklyn -- and wearing it on their sleeves like a military badge -- the Holy Ghost offer up yet another New York dose of rock 'n' roll revivalism that is neither fresh nor particularly interesting. Get Your Funeral Shoes, a six-song EP that acts as a teaser for their full length which will be released later this year, has the requisite shimmery, trashy guitars and vocals slurred with a devil-may-care attitude. The boys definitely have the chops, as opening cut "Ghettobird", an energetic rave-up whose introduction brings to mind Jimi Hendrix's "Crosstown Traffic", rightly proves. "Seein' Is Believin' (It's Allright)" and "Clarice and the Schoolboy" are also footstompin', headbangin' numbers with the latter containing some rather clever guitar work. Unfortunately, the energy comes at a lack of innovation. There is nothing here that garage rock bands didn't already do in the '60s and the Holy Ghost lack the personality to bring a unique perspective to the material. Get Your Funeral Shoes is an honest, if ultimately lackluster effort.
Amy Blaschke, Amy Blaschke (Luckyhorse Industries)
The sophomore album from this Seattle based singer-songwriter is nine songs of yearning, somberness, melancholy and weariness. And it's not bad to boot! "Estranged" sounds like an urbane Lucinda Williams as drummer Erin Tate and bassist James Bertram rounds out the track. Singing against her harmonies, the song seems classic and yet has a breath of fresh air to it. Folk-ish but not to its detriment, Blaschke brings Jane Siberry to mind with its ethereal yet quirky conclusion. "Skating At Night" has a sparser feel as she plays off her acoustic guitar. It's a glimpse of the beauty in her voice, although it is rather a narrow one at that occasionally. "Poor Old Man" harks back to an early version of the late Elliott Smith. "Foreigner" has a stop and start method to it, but seems to end blandly. When Blaschke opts for more of a country-like flair, she seems to sound far more sincere, particularly on the gorgeous "Sweet Song", a track that seems ideal for The Be Good Tanyas or a solo effort from Delores O'Riordan (now O'Riordan Burton) of The Cranberries. The album also has its softer sadder moments on tunes such as "You Insist" and the finale "Avalanche". If you were to picture Cat Power winning a few dollars off a scratch lottery ticket, you might get an idea of where this strong talent lies.
Drool Brothers, Kasio Montigo (Barfing Glitter)
If you're in need of a dose of willful weirdness, look no further than Los Angeles-based oddballs the Drool Brothers. Coming on like Mike Patton circa Mr. Bungle's California after a handful of happy pills, lead Drool Brother Chuck Mancillas tosses pop, soul, surf, garage and any other style than can't outrun him into the ol' musical blender and comes out with... well, it's hard to say what the final product is. But the Brothers -- Mancillas, his real brother, Tom Slik and buddy Joe Kramer - make a joyful noise on their sophomore disc, Kasio Montigo. Whether it's the lost blaxploitation theme "Le Funky Sweat", the faux-Zappa Grand Wazoo-era weirdo jazz of "No (the Fraction)", or the Nails' "88 Lines About 44 Women"-invoking "Gals", the Brothers know a good time when they hear it. Two caveats, though: A) "Itchy Turtleneck" and "Dr. Miyamoto" are a little too novelty-rock to merit repeated listens; and B) the album -- 14 tracks over 59 minutes -- is too damn long. Adventurous weird-pop fans with long attention spans (or at least a skip button on their CD player) would do well to seek out Kasio Montigo.
Various Artists, Now This Is What We Call the Blues (Telarc)
Once upon a time, while drudging it out in a writing workshop, I responded to my classmates' unfailing admiration of fellow writers who would submit parts of their work-in-progress novels indicating that they had written 200 pages+, by submitting a story with a gimmick. My gimmick consisted of beginning my story at page 1145 and ending at 1165 so that it would appear to be a part of a larger work. Well, it worked. Almost everyone, including the bloody teacher, told me how they either didn't see how this would fit into the larger scheme of things or how they were incredibly impressed with my incredible ability to write so many pages. It was a bloody joke people! Anyway, Telarc has, in a sense, done the same with this compilation, which they've indicated to be Volume # 420 in a series of, well, one. It's a joke people! Apparently fed up with every other label's pining for an excuse to release or re-release songs from their respective vaults and calling such ! releases "Slow Jams 8" or "The Best of Classic Rock 12" , Telarc basically one-ups the competition. And it's a solid collection, from the blues based rock of Tinsley Ellis and the Hoodoo Kings, to the Cajuny stomp of Tab Benoit, the acoustic laments of slide guitarist Paul Geremia on "Get Right Church" to the horn-drenched blues of veteran Luther "Guitar Junior" Johnson. Also included is a beautiful rendition of "Blackbird" by Colin Linden. It's a roster with attitude on a label that knows how to give ya some lip.
The Rum Diary, Poisions That Save Lives (Substandard)
Northern California's the Rum Diary is like the local college rock band that doesn't realize the five-minute, four-chord jam at the end of its "Superstition" cover is interesting only if you're on stage. But the Rum Diary's taste in excess runs more toward eight-minute Godspeed You! Black Emperor impressions, with plenty of My Bloody Valentine, Jawbox and Sunny Day Real Estate thrown in. (Perhaps the Rum Diary never noticed that only one song on Loveless, MBV's apotheosis, is longer than six minutes.) Still, despite the tendency toward self-indulgence (embodied by the band's two-drum-set gimmick), this ambitious third album is well-realized. Fans of the above bands and of Scotland post-rockers Mogwai should be take notice. "Notorious Young Brothers", in particular, rocks the speakers with its fuzzy cacophony. Weakest track "Killed by the Cowboy President" takes a turn toward emo, utilizing the loud-soft dynamic to skewer Dubya with as little nuance as an average emo band's "girls don't like me" loud-soft epic. Throughout the album, you will be rewarded by repeated listens, as song structures continue to take unexpected paths and squalls of noise threaten at every turn. Sprawling closer "The No Hunt" reaches scattered moments of transcendence. "Brothers and sisters / It's time to decide," declares Daniel McKenzie. With a little time and self-restraint, the Rum Diary's next album could easily inspire revival-style fervor; for now, the band is a little too raw and unfocused. Or maybe, as when seeing the local college jam band, perhaps you just need to be stoned.
Bob Neuwirth, Bob Neuwirth (Water)
Bob Neuwirth's reputation in the music business was built on his relationship with Bob Dylan. He was tour manager and ultimately acted as MC for the Rolling Thunder Revue. But he's also a pretty good songwriter and has released a handful of critically acclaimed discs that feature an understated approach, bathing his reed-thin voice in a simple, acoustic sound. The albums –- in particular, 1998's Back to the Front -- show a talented songwriter in command of his abilities. Those albums work precisely because they keep Neuwirth's voice up front. The same cannot be said of his 1974 self-titled debut album, re-released by Water Records. The disc features some interesting compositions but suffers from the production values of the times. The disc is a fairly solid example of the kind of country-rock music prevalent in the mid-1970s. It features some solid uptempo tunes –- "Rock & Roll Time" is exactly what it says, for instance, and "Country Livin'" has some nice slide guitar and horn. But ultimately, the disc suffers from an attempt at crafting too big a sound. Neuwirth is fairly drowned out by all the joyful noise made by the legions of music industry luminaries that help out here. It is an infectious record that features some strong lyrics, with Neuwirth taking an interest in the seedier side of things, but on the whole it is more an artifact of a time passed than it is a necessary musical document.
Bart Davenport, Game Preserve (Antenna Farm)
Northern Californian scenester Bart Davenport's musical career reads like a history of groovy-white-boy pop. In his early days, the Bay Area crooner donned suit and harmonica in the Loved Ones, a garage-mod revival that would have to fend off major labels and major ladies if it existed today. Next, with the Kinetics, Davenport went for the blue-eyed soul angle, making him a San Francisco phenomenon. His 2002 solo debut, Bart Davenport, showed the singer increasingly influenced by Burt Bacharach, Graham Parsons, and a breezy West Coast vibe. There's plenty of that on Game Preserve, but also plenty more: the sensitive anglophile and McCartney-ite ("Summer in Her Hair", "Sideways Findways"), Mexicali coffeeshop acoustics ("Sweetest Game"), and the moves of CCR, Bread, and other '70s FM hammock shakers. The album's finest moment comes when Davenport channels not just the sound, but the soul of Street Choir-era Van Morrison on "Euphoria or Everyone on Earth is So Beautiful, Even You". Californian luminaries from groups such as Cake, Preston School of Industry, Call and Response, and others join Davenport to make this a sort of statewide group effort. By the time you get to the hopelessly bright, chilled-out harmonies of "My Brother Woody", even blizzard-bound New Englanders will be in shades and trunks, catching rays and maybe a Bacardi on the roof.
Eddy Clearwater & Los Straightjackets, Rock 'N' Roll City (Rounder/Bullseye)
This is the most unusual release by a bluesman in quite some time. A stalwart on the West Chicago blues scene, Eddy "The Chief" Clearwater teams up with California surf darlings, the masked rhythm section known as Los Straightjackets. This is a fun outing that serves up a big slice of rockabilly-tinged blues. "Hillbilly Blues" is more like straight black hillbilly music as channeled through Chuck Berry, tinged with a hint of surf-guitar twang. "Old Time Rocker", "Back Down to Earth", and "Peggy Sue" are gentle rockers, electrified country complete with slap-bass and bubbling guitar runs. Surf-style toms pound the rhythm, and spysurf guitar and saxes combine for the instrumental "Monkey Paw". Clearly not afraid to experiment, Clearwater also can easily switch gears and cover an oldie but goodie, "Let the Fours Blow". A solid slow blues closes the disc, Eddie singing especially sweetly, accompanied only by an organ on "Good Times Are Coming". Thanks for the good thought. We can only hope.
Brandston/Camber/Seven Storey (Deep Elm)
Facing off with tear-stained diaries under their arms, Deep Elm presents a three-way split EP between Brandston, Camber and Seven Storey, a dozen boys with broken hearts and a story to tell. Like most of the Deep Elm roster, each of these bands employ edgy if somewhat plain guitars and deep voiced vocals. As each of these singers have a similar voice, it wouldn't particularly matter which band they were in, as each cover similar lyrical territory with nauseating literalness. The music is just as interchangeable. This does a particular disservice to the EP, as instead of highlighting each band, it only shows how dull and indistinct they really are. Only on a couple of tracks do things get mildly interesting. On "Goodbye Mr. Spaulding", Camber offer an acoustic led number that brings to mind the mellower work of Sunny Day Real Estate and on "New Day" Seven Storey turn up the tempo with an urgency similar to that of the Foo Fighters. However, this is largely a dull affair, and will hardly possess anyone who is not already a fan of these band's works to pick it up.
Monday in London, The Red Machine (Indianola)
This record contains some Britpop influences as the press kit suggests, but on the emo-opening/nu metal punk of "Smart Bomb", you'd be hard pressed to find it. Opting for a minimal alternative rock arrangement, lead singer Tanner Cardwell comes off a bit like the latest "buzz" act Billy Talent. Or Faith No More V. 2.0. And for the rest of the record, the weaving between rock and agro-punk touches is quite audible. "The New You" sounds extremely aged and dated given the plethora of "emo/nu" punk that is out there. The only saving grace is the rhythm section of drummer Robbie Adkins and bassist John Brehm. "A Good Friend, A Worse Enemy" features Cardwell's annoying wails. There are a few decent moments such as the wordy-titled "The Queen, The Meek and Their Disease" and "Acting Surgeon", a slow building Cure-like opening setting the groundwork for this instrumental. Generally though, there isn't much to get excited about for bland ditties such as "Lie to Me Baby". There aren't enough hooks or general oomph to communicate what Monday in London is trying to communicate. This is a rather insipid bit of music from a band that should be delivering much better material, if "Long Live the Traitor" is any indication.
Tom Jones, Reloaded: Greatest Hits (UTV)
Like Freddie Mercury on a lower register, Tom Jones has won enduring popularity, especially in Europe, for the sincerity of his unwavering commitment to good-natured kitsch. This album collects the cream of his old standards and the best from his millennial revival in Europe. Covering everyone from Prince ("Kiss", naturally included here) to (no joke) Lead Belly (over a looped electronic beat!), Jones stamps the songs with his own hyperbolic aesthetic. As with Jackie Wilson or Barry White, once this alternative, nuance-free aesthetic is accepted, it's a lot of fun. When he gets (relatively) restrained on the duet with Van Morrison or on the blues standard "Motherless Child", you don't even breathe a sigh of relief. If you buy only two Tom Jones CDs, this is the second one to get (after a comprehensive collection of his older best). Heck, this might even be the first.
FCS North, Vocabulary (Luckyhorse)
Boring, quasi-jazz album that goes absolutely nowhere. FCS North seem to have some talent lurking about, but why they didn't focus on it and make a good album is anyone's guess. The first track here, "Skit", is nothing more but 55 seconds of the band getting ready to play. When they finally get around to doing that on "Prince", you wish they hadn't as cheeseball synths wrap around lounge vibes for eight minutes. If you don't like that, then dig the variation on the same theme known as "11:11". And they the hell are those awful vocals scattered about these songs? Was it done in an attempt to make the tracks even worse? Occasionally, other grating elements like scratching will enter the mix ("Things Will Change") making Vocabulary even more of a head scratcher. The whole thing is hardly worth the band's effort or your time.
The Color Bars, Making Playthings (Paranoiac)
The terrific Making Playthings is an EP that feels like the perfect LP. Eight songs here that don't overstay their welcome. This New York City group doesn't crank out the usual garage slop, but goes the other route and turns in a beautiful and fun psychedelic-inspired pop masterpiece that also hits on a great '70s groove. Fans of both The Beatles and Brian Wilson will really tear into this disc. The harmonies are top notch and the playing and arrangements will take your breath away. Tracks like "All Your Kitchen Ghosts" successfully update psychedelia for the new millennium, while other song such as "Eliza" and "We're a Tag Team" strut around in their finest Lennon/McCartney garb. Still other tunes like "The Last Time I Felt Alive" might even bring to mind the likes of Teenage Fanclub at their most delicate and pretty. A must-have release, no doubt about it.