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Tom Waits, Ike Reilly, Aaron Jentzen and Collin Herring

By Brian Baker · November 30th, 2009 · I Shall Be Released

With any luck, by the time you read these words, my left kidney will be blissfully unstoned. I’m currently on an overnight food-and-water fast — have you ever noticed you never want to eat or drink something so badly as those times when you absolutely can’t have them? — in preparation for what's known as a lithotripsy, where powerful and highly concentrated sound waves blow my giant kidney stone into beach sand.

All that’s left for me to do after that is drink copious amounts of fluids and piss out the resulting gravel. Or at least I’m hoping that’s all that remains.

From what I’ve read, there are possible complications, the most significant being that the stone remains in one or more large pieces that won’t pass any easier than the papa non-rolling stone. I prefer to think that everything will go fine; in fact, fine is pretty much the exact grit that I’m looking for as I pan my urine stream with my mesh-filtered funnel over the next few days. The last thing this old prospector hopes to find are any nuggets.

And, of course, whatever happens with this particular procedure, it’s still only Act II — the third part of the process involves removing the stint that was put in place last week. And just so we’re clear, I'm not really looking forward to that little disappearing trick anymore than the steps it took to get it in there in the first place. Thinking about it makes me queasy in places I don’t even have a stomach, so I’ll stop and reiterate the hope that you and I share at this very moment: That at this time next week, neither one of us is having to concern ourselves with this conversation any longer. So say we all. Hey, look down there: CD reviews!

For the past 10 years, Ike Reilly has been routinely releasing diverse and fantastic albums to a small but appreciative audience, accruing a press kit filled to bursting with great reviews but finding little love at the cash register. Although Reilly addresses that issue in a sidelong manner on his new album, Hard Luck Stories (on the song “Lights Out,” he sings without irony, “I think I better sing a song that makes a little money”), it’s clear that his real motivations have been satisfied on each and every album he’s done to date. All Reilly wants to do is tell great stories about the forgotten and downtrodden — you know, pretty much everybody — and set them to a soundtrack that blends and bends Folk, Rock, Country, Hip Hop and anything else that will help frame his scuffed and noir-ish tales of modern life.

On Hard Luck Stories, Reilly does that very thing once again without compromise. Although the album is populated with plenty of sales inducing guest appearances — including Shooter Jennings on the brilliantly shambling duet “The War on the Terror and the Drugs” and Cracker’s David Lowery and Johnny Hickman on the rollicking “Girls in the Backroom” and “The Ballad of Jack and Haley,” where a pot-growing dad loses custody of his daughter — Reilly doesn’t adapt his style to accommodate their presence but simply does what he always does and absorbs their contributions effortlessly, making them work for him.

Hard Luck Stories finds Reilly fusing dirty R&B grooves into his swaggering Pop/Roots sound, ultimately coming off like a uniquely American version of Elvis Costello. But perhaps Ike Reilly’s most amazing accomplishment over the past decade is that every new album is his best ever and yet the new one in no way ever diminishes the greatness of his existing catalog.

Michigan-born and Pittsburgh-based multi-instrumentalist Aaron Jentzen has worn a lot of hats over the years — teenage Scottish music lover and bagpipe recitalist, Velvet Underground and Nico fan, choral group member, frontman for Chalk Outline Party and music editor for Pittsburgh City Paper. But it’s his current role as solo artist that brings him to our attention today, more specifically the amazing work on his debut EP, Great Inventors.

Musically, Jentzen hews toward a baroque Pop/Gothic New Wave pulse with a decidedly Indie Rock shimmer, like a dark chocolate swirl of Bauhaus and Joy Division for historical authenticity, The National for modern perspective and a dollop of Michael Penn for bittersweet counterpoint. Vocally, Jentzen is every bit as compelling as his music — and that’s an accomplishment — as he weaves his baritone into a hypnotic charm that’s reminiscent of Peter Murphy and Iggy Pop at their most romantic and seductive. Great Inventors’ five tracks are a tease for Jentzen’s first full-length, to be released next April (the EP can be downloaded gratis at www.aaronjentzen.com) and it works like a dream. The only downside is the EP's brevity; with any luck, Jentzen has stockpiled a double album worth of this kind of thing for next year’s long player. A reviewer can hope.

Even a cursory glance at Tom Waits’ musical arc over the years — from sensitive Folk/Pop singer/songwriter to jazzy boho troubadour to careening sonic sculptor to arthouse Blues experimentalist to freakishly balanced combination of all of his creative muses — will give an accurate reading of his overwhelming creative restlessness. So leave it to Waits to find a new format with which to present his double live document of last year’s acclaimed and patently brilliant “Glitter and Doom” tour.

The first CD features 17 songs from the tour’s sprawling two and a half hour set — the loping Chinatown Blues of “Get Behind the Mule,” the scuffed romantic balladry of “Fannin Street,” the noir-ish Jazz growl of “Dirt in the Ground,” the artsy Howlin’ Wolf waltz of “The Part You Throw Away,” the Beefheartian swing of “Metropolitan Glide.” Rather than present a single show from the triumphant 10-date run, Glitter and Doom Live offers recordings from all 10 cities grafted together in a seamless set, making it the perfect souvenir for those who attended and the perfect sampler for those who couldn’t (assuming there are Waits fans who require such motivations).

The second disc is a special treat: “Tom Tales” is a 40-minute single track that splices some of the ridiculous-to-sublime yarns that Waits spun between songs during the tour. As he noodles aimlessly at the piano, Waits regales his faithful with asides on Oklahoma laws (and their Spam Museum), spider lotharios, condom mints, weasel coats, the graveyard shift and tricycle sunglasses. And Waits comes up with the best response ever to unintelligibly shouted requests from the audience (“Write it down, pass it forward and I’ll take a look at it…”). The reward at the end of the long monologue is a lovely rendition of “Picture in a Frame.” With such a limited run of dates, only a fraction of Waits’ fans got to experience “Glitter and Doom” firsthand. This collection is the next best thing to being there.

It’s not hard to connect the dots from Country to Folk to Rock to Collin Herring, but the picture resulting from those connections is slightly more difficult to describe. In his hands, the standard elements of the genres he inhabits do not necessarily adhere to the sonic parameters that have defined them in more traditional settings by more traditional artists.

On Herring’s fourth album, the self-released Ocho, the Austin singer/songwriter assembles an eight-song set that often bristles with the Roots/Rock Americana of his first three discs while incorporating more of the kind of atmospheric texturalism found in the wheelhouse of Tom Waits and Chuck Prophet (“Young Ones”). Herring’s plaintive and tremulous vocal style and disquieting lyrical honesty puts him in proximity to Ryan Adams, Freedy Johnston and Chris Whitley, especially when he goes full bore electric (“Passed Away,” “Seemed to Be”).

But when he applies those same gifts in an acoustic Folk direction, there's a haunted, ethereal quality to the songs reminiscent of Elvis Costello’s collaborations with T-Bone Burnett (“Kill the Cover”). And in a lot of cases, the cumulative results are Herring’s distinctive sonic fingerprint (“Hit Miss”), giving the clear impression that he’s well on his way to establishing the kind of broad, expansive and unique range that Neil Young has successfully cultivated for the past four decades.

You might identify dots all your own as you connect freely while listening to Ocho, but the picture will undeniably be Collin Herring.



 
 
 
 

 

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