Various Artists: Brand Spankin' New

Barbara Flaska

Various Artists

Brand Spankin' New

Label: Vanguard
US Release Date: 2000-09-28

I like 99 cent samplers. That's a small risk to become acquainted with new artists, and a small price indeed to pay for Patty Larkin's searing ballad, "Burnin' Down." This tune, carried like smoke on a breeze by acoustic guitar, mandolin, and drifting electric slide guitar, erupts like a fire on the mountain and sweeps relentlessly towards the home. In recounting her tale of escape, Patty gives practical advice mixed with considerations people can't help having in prolonged emergency situations. Among other things, have a healthy respect for real danger, don't take risks for trifles, but she also advises not to throw out either the baby or the bath water.

That song resonated in me despite the fact I live in one of the safest countries in the world. Our economy is flourishing, medical advances assure increasing longevity, and the Cold War is history. The military draft has been gone so long, young folks don't know it ever existed. Things have never been better. In psychological and sociological theory, personal safety is the most basic foundation upon which all good things are built. Once personal safety is assured for increasing numbers of individuals, a society is "safe." Then all the good things that have been building for those privileged individuals in theory combine and they in turn work to improve the society and make it safer and better for still more people.

A lot of people have it pretty good, but how safe do they have to feel? People seem to fear that as safe as they are, they still have to face nature. I think that's why there are television programs like Survivor and best selling books that metro dwellers read on how to extract yourself from all sorts of scrapes, from what to do if your parachute fails to thwarting a bear attack to surviving an avalanche. I suspect such fears have been simmering like the cappuccino on the tables of cafes for the past decade or so until a comedian tapped into them for his best seller.

When I flew down to the city where I bought this record, I happened to be on the same commuter flight as the Arson and Bomb squad, all identified by their patches. Once we touched down, the silent man I sat next to showed his relief in landing safely and shared he had been a tail gunner. Given his age, I presumed he had served during the "big one." The pocket in front of my seat held a consumer magazine offering death-defying contrivances, including a personal oxygen helmet for aviation and home fires, designed to give 20 minutes of air to help insure survival.

So it would seem that the unconscious public mind is preparing for surviving whatever coming conflagration is imagined coming, when hell's a-popping like hell. There are a lot of clever merchants tapping into this free-floating anxiety and giving it form, but we can't all have such cumbersome defense mechanisms. That's why I took a risk and bought a record of artists I'd never heard.

This sampler showcases eight new artists, and I am happy to have been introduced to Patty Larkin. For slightly more money, you can get twice as many records on a new low-priced collection called Route 50: Driving New Roots for Fifty Years. Celebrate Vanguard's 50th anniversary, get 2-1/2 hours of music by Vanguard artists old and new.





The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.


The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.


Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.


'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.


'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"


Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.


The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".


GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".


Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".


Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.


Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.


The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".


Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.


Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.