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PopMatters Music Short Takes
our brief reviews of new releases
24 July 2006
The Weatherman, Cruisin' Alaska (Mono Cromatica)
Until this CD from the Weatherman fell into my lap, I hadn't heard any Portugese music other than fado. Apparently, cut-and-paste indie-pop is also a featured export of that Iberian nation. The Weatherman is the recording project of singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Alexandre Monteiro, who is aided considerably throughout the course of Cruisin' Alaska by Pedro Chamorra, credited on most tracks with additional programming. From Revolver-era Beatles and early '70s Beach Boys to Blur and Menomena, the Weatherman threads together the whole history of skewed-yet-sunny pop music. While the guitars are too clean and pretty to get the "psych" tag, the dedication in the liner notes "to the inspirational soul of Timothy Leary" offers a clue as to what might have fueled Monteiro's many odd, mid-song departures into spaced-out vocal harmonies and electronic soundscapes. Sometimes these are successful and add just the right kick to a traditionally structured pop tune. On the other hand, these diversions are the over-indulgent ruin of a few otherwise very fun, straightforward indie-pop ditties full of clip-cloppy drums, perky guitar melodies, and catchy vocals (sung in English, thankfully). Despite these bumps in the road, the stronger songs on Cruisin' Alaska -- the gorgeous opener "About Harmony," the wistful and pretty "I Sustain", and the super-groovy "If You Only Have One Wish" -- make for a very worthwhile album of weirdness-tinged pop. The distribution for this CD is limited, but, for just under 10 euros, you can download the whole album from the French Virgin Megastore, at: www.virginmega.fr. How very European. Obrigado, and au revoir!
video "Cosmic Life": [AVI]
Indie / pop
J.B. Beverly and the Wayward Drifters, Dark Bar and a Jukebox (Hell Train)
Country music has been unanimously nominated as the industry whipping boy. Perhaps it may be because the rebellion of Merle Haggard and Hank William's country has been lost and replaced by an audience ready to take tractor to album as soon as dissent is suggested. A revolt headed by Hank Williams III is occurring that combines punk and country to reintroduce this outlaw credibility. Like their tour mate, J.B. Beverly and the Wayward Drifters is heavily influenced by punk; however, the band tends to side with the classic country styles. On Dark Bar and a Jukebox, elements of bluegrass, western swing, and honky-tonk are combined with Beverly's gruff broken beer bottle vocals. "Shoulda Thought About It" opens the album with impressive Earl Scruggs style banjo work. The duet is revived on "Lonesome, Loaded and Cold" which perfectly features Dixie Coon's drunken old 49er miner's voice. Less successful, however, is the ballad "Raining In Philly." Stanley's already straining vocals attempts to tenderly sets you down on a razor wire fence. The tapped-out percussion, slapped stand-up bass, and steel guitars on the album recreate the spirit of the honky-tonk. Allowing you to once again enjoy and take comfort in the drinking, drifting and desolation of the dark bar.
song clips": [MP3]
Anita O'Day, Indestructible! (Kayo Stereophonic)
It's sad to say, but Anita O'Day is not indestructible. Unfortunately, this release proves it. O'Day began her singing career during the Great Depression and achieved fame as the lead vocalist in Gene Krupa's big band before launching her solo career after the Second World War. She survived success, jail, drug and alcohol addictions, and the singer has been a well-regarded live performer and recording artist during the second half of the twentieth century. But this disc, which was five years in the making, finds the 86 year old musician in less than fine voice. She talks through the material as much as she sings it, and even then has trouble with the phrasing because of shortness of breath. Oh, she's a trouper and it's obvious O'Day is trying, but this is not the lady at her best. She is joined by a crackerjack band that includes veteran jazzbos Joe Wilder on trumpet and flugelhorn and Eddie Locke on drums. The material comes right out of the Great American Songbook, tunes like "Pennies From Heaven," "Blue Skies" and "All of Me," but O'Day just doesn't do these numbers justice here.
Celebrity, Mining For Twilight (Doghouse)
You can't grasp the gravity of the song "Nothing Left For You" without also knowing the trials Celebrity's singer/songwriter Lance Black went through to write it. His infant child had recently gone through a heart transplant, and then the poor little one's meds gave him cancer. The worst is over for his child, but Black's waking nightmare hasn't ended yet. After he poured all this love into his son's medical battle, he had little love left to lavish on his wife. Of course, sincerity alone can't guarantee great rock. Excellent musicianship, memorable songs and smart lyrics are also required. Celebrity excels at all these necessary skills and more. Celebrity is an odd name for this hardworking, glamour-free band. Someone like Paris Hilton gets People cover shots just for farting, it seems, while underrated groups like Celebrity pass unnoticed under the radar. But Mining For Twilight is too good to ignore.
multiple songs: [MySpace]
Rock / alternative
Ambulance LTD, New English EP (TVT)
As between-album stopgap releases go, Ambulance LTD's new EP doesn't skimp on the songs but quantity doesn't make it any more recommendable. The band is way better than the garbage they get from reviewers who still don't get that everybody's ripping off someone but they work from pretty easily recognizable touchstones, making them an easy target. That they tend to lift the best parts of their influences without giving their own songs enough life to get up and stand on their own can't make their life any easier. They're too measured to make a glorious mess and too good, for now, to make something truly flat. The exceptions, bassist Matt Dublin's inspired "Arbuckle's Swan Song" could be a Timothy B. Schmit song, and "Country Gentleman" (lifted off of the excellent SuperCuts compilation from Star Time), which may still be the band's most enjoyable song, can't carry the day. The by-the-book take on "Fearless" is too breathy, too impressed with itself, to be anything more than totally disposable and "New English" could have waited for a proper full-length release. "Not bad," he says after a listen, turning the CD off and reaching for a Clientele record.
multiple songs: [player]
Rock / pop
.: posted by Editor 8:55 AM