Once again, a surplus of reviewables and a deficit of newsworthy music-related topics leaves me at a loss for a lengthy opening paragraph. I could likely surf around for 20 minutes and find something to
bitch about comment on from atop my humble soapbox, but with a variety of deadlines and responsibilities breathing down my Shins T-shirt, the most effective use of my time seems to point toward doing actual work. Strange but true.
I’ve got your reviews right here, buddy …
There was a time when the name Jeff Beck was synonymous with some of the most brain-scorching guitar playing known to man. His seminal work with the Yardbirds in the ’60s came to epitomize the gold standard for psychedelic Blues Rock guitarists, his pedestal rising even higher with his incendiary recordings with his own Jeff Beck Group in the late ’60s and early ’70s. And then Beck discovered Jazz and deeper Blues and began exploring a new subtlety and power within his seemingly limitless range, evidenced by his groundbreaking 1975 album, Blow by Blow.
Since then, Beck has kept a foot in both camps, clearly a master of the supple introspection necessary to channel his Jazz ambitions and undoubtedly able to reconnect with his young man’s Blues flame with a single creative spark.
On his latest album, Emotion & Commotion, the iconic guitarist maps out a musical territory he's grown increasingly fond of charting over the past few years, namely the intersection between his fiery Blues roots and his airy Jazz branches. The twist on Emotion & Commotion, Beck’s first album of new material in seven years, is the occasional accompaniment of magnificently bombastic orchestrations and vocals provided by the incomparable Joss Stone (a terrific “I Put a Spell on You,” “There‘s No Other Me”), the spine-tingling Imelda May (“Lilac Wine”) and the ethereal Olivia Safe (“Elegy for Dunkirk”).
Beck kicks off Emotion & Commotion with a hair-raising reading of Jeff Buckley’s “Corpus Christi Carol,” which gives way to the visceral fusion groove of “Hammerhead,” a furious blend of Blow by Blow-era histrionics, Blues wailing and a string arrangement worthy of Led Zeppelin. That’s followed by the delicate virtuosity of “Never Alone,” where Beck plays with a fluidity and other-worldly tone that would have Pat Metheny rushing back to his practice shed.
If there’s an unexpected moment on Emotion & Commotion, it has to be Beck’s astonishing translation of the Wizard of Oz chestnut “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” which finds the guitarist wringing real pathos out of the familiar melody. After over 40 years of shunning prevailing trends for the guitar path less traveled, Jeff Beck uses Emotion & Commotion to demonstrate that he still has a few backstreets to examine and skill to spare for the journey.
Earl Greyhound’s debut full length, 2006’s Soft Targets, slammed and jammed with gale force fury, an Indie Rock homage to classic British Hard Rock with an undercurrent of Soul, like a contemporary psychedelic reformation of Led Zeppelin and Sly and the Family Stone as overseen by Ben Harper. The subsequent four years have been fairly momentous for the Brooklyn trio. Original drummer Chris Bear left to join Grizzly Bear before Soft Targets was even released, leaving guitarist/vocalist Matt Whyte and bassist/vocalist Kamara Thomas in a lurch until the arrival of Ricc Sheridan, who has definitely provided the band with a subtle and slippery new rhythm to play against.
After three years of relentless touring, opening for Gov’t Mule, Soundtrack of Our Lives, Chris Cornell and Coheed and Cambria and earning great notices for their appearances at South By Southwest and beyond, Earl Greyhound has finally gotten their “new” drummer into the studio to record their sophomore album, Suspicious Package.
Although the trio remains indebted to groove-laden Hard Rock, there are new sonic references rippling through their latest album as subtle shades of Jeff Buckley and Nirvana, which might have been present but less evident on Soft Targets, are now drifting into the forefront. The art Rock delicacy of the two-part “The Eyes of Cassandra” and the lilting “Holy Immortality” gives way to more traditional Earl Greyhound blister Blues like “Oye Vaya” and edgy Pop-flecked fare like “Ghost and the Witness,” giving Suspicious Package an almost disconcerting diversity and requiring more than a couple of listens to be fully absorbed. Repeated spins eventually reveal the connective threads across the Suspicious Package’s expansive breadth, and the multi-hued talents of Earl Greyhound ultimately shimmer into clearer focus.
A long time ago, when my tastes were still developing, I noticed an odd pattern. I found that, with almost no exceptions, I didn’t like albums with three or more songs that featured the word “love” in their titles. In those days, that many obvious love songs on any one album was generally a sign of an out-of-date crooner or a Pop/Jazz wannabe or a much too sugary Pop/Rock county-fair-circuit rider.
Although I’ve been proven wrong on a few occasions, for the most part the formula has held true all these years.
Until, that is, Carrie Rodriguez released Love and Circumstance this week. “Love” in the album title, three songs with “love” in the song titles and two forms of “love” in other titles (“loving” and “lover’s”). By all rights and my seldom-wrong equation, Love and Circumstance should be a cloying stinkbomb of epic proportions, but this is Carrie Rodriguez, the Americana chanteuse who made her rep singing with the legendary Chip Taylor nearly a decade ago and finally struck out on her own, crafting an acclaimed solo career in the process.
Rodriguez actually comes from a long musical lineage.
Her father David Rodriguez was a songwriter and touring musician (father and daughter were on the road together when she was 15), and her aunt was a renowned Latin vocalist in the ’50s. Love and Circumstance honors both her family and her musical heritage, as Rodriguez stocks her ninth album and debut for Ninth Street Opus with a variety of delightfully rendered covers that examine the myriad literal situations described in the album’s title, as well as the more figurative definition of her love of the music therein.
Rodriguez shapes the material with a firm and delicate hand, finding new wisdom and strength in Richard Thompson’s “Waltzing’s for Dreamers” and offers an improbably more forceful interpretation of Lucinda Williams’ great “Steal Your Love.” On most albums, these would be highlights, but on Love and Circumstance, they’re merely preludes for even better moments; a gentle and beautiful reading of Townes Van Zadt’s “Rex’s Blues,” a walking Country Blues take on Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” and shimmering runs at her father’s composition, “When I Heard Gypsy Davy Sing,” and the song her aunt made popular in the ’50s, “La Punalada Trapera.”
All credit to Carrie Rodriguez for realizing that on an album this gorgeous and heartfelt you can never have too much love.
Proggish bands like Genesis, Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Rush, Yes and Queensryche have shown time and time again that songs and entire albums can tell a story, sustain interest and still be an entertaining and even compelling musical experience. Some of them have also proven the unfortunate result of attempting this kind of Literary Rock with half-baked concepts and/or execution.
No one can accuse Coheed & Cambria of those crimes. C&C frontman Claudio Sanchez told an epic science fiction tale — his detailed and complex “Amory Wars” arc — across the band’s four albums, intertwining his credible story with a spirited metallic Emo soundtrack. Sanchez and guitarist Travis Stever even survived the band’s near break-up three years ago to complete the story on the band’s last album, No World For Tomorrow, but even then, Sanchez was concocting a way to continue telling the Amory Wars’ story.
With Year of the Black Rainbow, C&C takes a page from the George Lucas playbook and go the prequel route, envisioning the events that presaged the Amory Wars. Unlike Lucas, C&C actually craft something that stands with the original. Sanchez sings with the same histrionic abandon that has defined C&C from the start and proves that he and the band (featuring bassist Michael Todd and former Dillinger Escape Plan drummer Chris Pennie) have mastered the art of thematic storytelling with songs that work perfectly well as stand-alone units (the swelling Prog Punk of first single “The Broken,” the Prog Metal intricacy of “Guns of Summer” and “This Shattered Symphony,” the Rush-on-Emo blast of “Made Out of Nothing (All That I Am)”).
Black Rainbow’s deluxe edition comes with an actual novel that connects the album’s musical dots, but casual fans will simply thrill at Coheed & Cambria’s perfectly bombastic Prog Metal songcraft.
There are musical reference points all over Kaki King’s new album, Junior, but it would be erroneous to consider them influences. Whatever she’s heard or experienced is coming out through her songwriting, singing and guitar playing in ways that are vaguely familiar and yet startlingly unique. And she transcends gender without having the benefit of a “Year of the Woman” banner splashed across the cover of Rolling Stone. King doesn’t require the female qualifier; she’s a great guitarist, a great singer/songwriter, a great artist.
What can you expect from Junior, and by proxy, from Kaki King? Almost anything, really, if you can wrap your head around a spontaneous studio jam with Suzanne Vega, Eef Barzelay, Stephen Malkmus and James Mercer with Brian Eno producing, manipulating, coaxing and masterpiecing all over the place. King’s previous albums were rife with atmosphere and there‘s plenty to go around on Junior, but she’s largely stripped that back here, concentrating on crafting excellent songs rather than excellent moods.
She is a guitarist of considerable invention, a facility that she displays on Junior with a minimum of flash and a maximum of emotional impact, as notes cascade through her songs with Math/Prog precision and Pop/Rock economy. Although King’s songs on Junior cover a broad spectrum of subjects and feelings — the spy vs. spy-themed “The Betrayer,” the hopeful melancholy of the instrumental “Everything Has an End, Even Sadness,” the quiet then forceful desperation of the equally wordless “My Nerves That Committed Suicide,” the fever dream of “Hallucinations from My Poisonous German Streets,” the acoustic guitar/piano heartbreak lamentation of “Sunnyside” — her skillful and emotional guitar craft, her vulnerable vocals and her ability to inhabit her songs tie everything together in a powerful musical package.
To hang an Americana/Rockabilly tag on Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers is like calling Salvador Dali a cool painter; it’s technically correct but hardly goes far enough.
Col. J.D. Wilkes is a wildly engaging frontman, gyrating and howling with the St. Vitus frenzy of Iggy Pop, the laser intensity of Nick Cave, the controlled chaos of Lux Interior and the swaggering weirdness of Danny Elfman. And Th’ Shack Shakers are his perfect musical foils, providing a soundtrack that variously drifts into the outer territories of Blues, Country, Gospel and Rockabilly but with compelling twists, like the woodshed anvil banging of Tom Waits, the demented twang of the Cramps, the skewed joie de vive of Southern Culture on the Skids and the breakneck devotional of Reverend Horton Heat.
On AgriDustrial, Th’ Shack Shakers’ latest testimonial — their sixth overall and their debut on their own Colonel Knowledge label — Wilkes and his raucous band of snake-handling head-cutters mow through a propulsive set that shows off their estimable gifts to a wild-eyed turn. From the Motorheadicana hoedown of “Sin Eater” to the Punkadelic scorch of “Sugar Baby” to the Deltagrass swing of “Hammer and Tongs,” Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers go from strength to strength, piling up the hillbilly genre references like so much cordwood cut with a sharp axe and a sharper intuition.
Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers already possess an impressive catalog, but AgriDustrial stands as the mark to beat from here on out.
In the summer of 1975, my best friend Kev and I went to visit our buddy Beef to buy some, uh, oregano (you know, for our Italian cooking class at the community college). Beef was in the middle of his weekly poker game with some of his other oregano customers and was in the midst of a legitimate hot streak, having won five or six consecutive pots. Not wanting to walk away from that kind of luck, he pointed us toward a crate of albums and told us pick something out to play and he’d weight out our, uh, oregano shortly.
In an effort to make an informed decision, Kev and I looked at every record until we got to the back of the crate. The last album was Iggy and the Stooges’ Raw Power. We looked at each other and smiled. “How about this one?” Kev said to Beef, holding up the iconic Iggy cover.
“If you have to,” Beef said with a shiver, “but that thing scares the shit out of me.” Kev smiled and said, “That means it’s working.”
By the time the first side had finished, Beef’s luck had gone stone cold. “I’ve got to get you guys out of here,” said Beef, giving us an extra helping of oregano and throwing the Raw Power album to Kev. “And you can take this with you.” I already had a cassette of the album; that was how Kev got his copy of one of the greatest Rock albums ever recorded.
If you’re keeping track, this week’s reissue of Raw Power is the fourth version and is something of a full circle release. The original vinyl album came out in 1973, the first CD version with David Bowie’s original hot mix came out in 1989 and Iggy’s own remix was released in 1997 (two years after Bomp Records released Iggy’s original mixes under the title Rough Power). A lot of Stooges fans hated Iggy’s mix — he basically just pushed his vocal to the forefront and did what he could with the rest.
This new deluxe Raw Power package restores the long out-of-print Bowie mix (which, in side by side comparisons, actually is better in most ways), regritting one of the grittiest albums in Rock history.
The frenetic blurt of “Search and Destroy” and its hellbent opening declaration (“I’m a streetwalkin’ cheetah with a heart full of napalm/ I’m the runaway son of a nuclear A-bomb”), the ominous riff that powers “Gimme Danger,” the shrieking reality of “Your Pretty Face Is Going to Hell,” the echoed menace of “Penetration,” the insistent single piano key hammering on the anthemic title track, the tribal Blues slink of “I Need Somebody,” the garage swing and swagger of “Shake Appeal” and “Death Trip” all combines to help Raw Power stand as one of the most primal and brutal examples of early ’70s Rock and perhaps the first to inspire the use of the word Punk as a musical reference. It was also the album that introduced James Williamson as the Stooges’ guitarist, with Ron Asheton moving to bass and ultimately away from the band until their reunion on Iggy’s Skull Ring in 2003 and the Stooges’ reunion album The Weirdness in 2007.
In addition to restoring the now-considered-superior Bowie mix to the original album, the deluxe Raw Power package also includes a slightly muddied but still exciting soundboard recording of a Stooges performance at Richards in Atlanta in 1973 featuring such longtime live staples “Cock in My Pocket” and “Open Up and Bleed,” plus the rarities “Heavy Liquid,” a freewheeling jam that sounds like Spirit if they’d been formed in Detroit, and “Head On” (which appears in the Richards set list and also in a rehearsal performance; the other studio track on the live disc is a tribal Raw Power outtake titled “Doojiman”).
As was customary for Iggy at the time, the diminutive frontman was a combative force of nature, delivering his lyrics with a howling snarl and hurling insults into the crowd as fast as they came his way. Amazingly, there is a certain subtlety in the Raw Power songs that's missing from the studio versions, particularly the piano-driven take on “Search and Destroy,” followed by Iggy’s harrowing poem, “8 Georgia Peaches,” the ostensible title of the live disc.
There aren’t often many compelling reasons to re-purchase titles that have been reissued as many times as Raw Power, but the freshly remastered Bowie mix and the visceral Richards gig (and, if you order directly from the iggyandthestoogesmusic.com Web site, you also get a third disc of Raw Power-era rarities, alternates and outtakes as well as a DVD documentary on the making of the album) makes this latest iteration of Raw Power a hair-raising necessity.