Music

The Deep Dark Woods: Jubilee

There’s very little that’s jubilant about this collection of deep dark Americana.


The Deep Dark Woods

Jubilee

Label: Six Shooter
US Release Date: 2013-09-30
UK Release Date: Import
Amazon
iTunes

I have a mental picture, while listening to the Deep Dark Woods new album Jubilee, of the band sitting in a smoky, semi-darkened wood paneled room. They’re in a log cabin somewhere, dusty sunlight slanting through a curtained window while a record player spins the Smithsonian Folkways collection and records by the Band. An air of stately melancholy hangs over the picture.

With Jubilee, Canadian band the Deep Dark Woods appear to be trying to emulate the folksongs of the “old, weird America” (as music scribe Greil Marcus referred to the stark, often strange folk songs of America’s past) in a similar style to what Bob Dylan and the Band accomplished on The Basement Tapes over 40 years ago. What’s different is that Dylan and the Band did a lot of covers of traditional pieces along with similar-in-style songs written by Dylan and mixed things up with material that could be eerie and mysterious on one song and humorous on the next. Their explorations through the cobwebs of a hidden, forgotten past contained an aura of experimentation and adventurousness. Jubilee, however, is primarily a set of bleak songs of drinking, lost love, and misfortune. The Deep Dark Woods mine the same hushed, somber mood on over half of the songs. There’s very little that’s jubilant about this collection of deep dark Americana.

Recorded in a cabin in Alberta (see, my mental picture isn’t too far off) with retro California singer/songwriter/producer Jonathan Wilson at the helm, Jubilee was mostly recorded live. Yet, it’s a very meticulous sounding album. That’s not a negative. The measured, cohesive interplay of the band is a product of their experience and comfort playing together going on 10 years. You can also chalk up this close-knit playing to the recording environment inherent in a small cabin. This environment also lends itself to the intimate and warm tones of the songs.

Despite the cozy recording locale, there’s a restlessness in the lyrics of many of the songs. It’s a lazy, sleepy restlessness, though. “I’ve got leaving on my mind” lead vocalist Ryan Boldt intones in “Been a Long Time”, but the song is so lethargic with its muted horns, distant guitar strums and organ that it seems Boldt will fall asleep before he actually goes anywhere. In fact, he soon sings “I’m so lonely / I just wanna go home / Can’t even open up my eyes."

This wish to be moving surfaces again on one of the strongest songs on the album, “18th of December”: “I’ve never been to Paris / Still never been to Maine/ I’d sure like California / I could leave on the next train”. Though it’s one of the standout tracks the melody is familiar, calling to mind folk songs “Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair” and “Shady Grove."

In the true folk story telling tradition, the grim waltz of “Pacing the Room” features a narrator who’s been abandoned by a “fair young maiden”: “I’m leaving this country / My bag’s in my hand / I’m leaving sweet Susie / The finest in the land / Her father he hates me / He says I’m too poor / Now I’m pacing the room / and I’m bitter to the core / I’m pacing the room ‘cause of you."

When the album strays from its gothic folk roadmap, it often sounds like Neil Young. “Miles and Miles”, which leads off the album, is a dead ringer for a lost Young song, from the lead vocals to the distorted electric guitar sound. The country blues “Red, Red Rose” also bears similarities to Neil Young. In this case, his “Love Is a Rose”, if the Band’s Garth Hudson and Levon Helm were guesting on the track (which they aren’t.)

On the closing song, “The Same Thing”, (which actually is more of the same thing, as far as being very subdued) the band manages to stretch out a bit on the 10-minute-plus loping blues shuffle. Yet, it’s as if they’re having trouble staying awake, till the last minute or two when they manage to bring things to…well, not quite a fever pitch, but a noticeable rise. They end the song, and so the album, with some nice guitar and organ dynamics, playing fluidly off each other. A few more songs like the carefree ode to New Orleans that is “Bourbon Street”, and the harmony-laden country-folk jangle of “East St. Louis” (“’Cause they don’t dump bodies in East St. Louis anymore”) and even another “Red, Red Rose” or two would give the album more balance and diversity. As it is, Jubilee feels like a long, slow dirge.

6

From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.

Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).

Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:

10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)

Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.

9. Wheels on Meals

They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.

8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.

7. Who Am I?

Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.

6. Rumble in the Bronx

For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.

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