Well, kids, it was a great vacation. Two weeks of doing relatively nothing, other than fairly prodigious alcohol consumption (for me, anyway; I still have a 12-pack in the basement fridge from last Christmas) and sitting by the lake in quiet contemplation of the beauty of northern Michigan.
Other high points of the trip: Reading eight books in two weeks, perhaps a personal best for me; seeing 33 meteors toward the end of the Perseids; two meals featuring the best corn I’ve ever eaten in my life; fabulous margaritas and a wonderful gin concoction called a Canadian Sunset courtesy of our cabin neighbors Gary and Connie (who I sincerely hope we’ll see every year, and not just for the drinks); fantastic breakfasts at Paula’s Cafe (say yes to the raspberry pancakes); a productive trip into the used CD/book shop I hit every vacation; renting a pontoon boat and taking it into Burt Lake, the state’s fourth largest inland lake (my brother-in-law let my 16-year-old daughter drive the boat for about 10 minutes, which inspired my sister-in-law to ask, “So are you ready for her to get her license?,” to which I replied, “Yeah, as soon as they make a highway as wide as a lake.”); an inspiring drive through the Tunnel of Trees; randomly running into a guy from my hometown (we went to the same high school; his sister graduated the year after me, he graduated four years after that, and their uncle was my physics teacher in community college); and having dinner with an old college friend who I saw last year at the hospital where I took my wife when she broke her shoulder (the friend works at the hospital; it turns out she lives on the other side of the lake where we rent our cabin).
All in all, an incredible and relaxing two week break.
And still I managed to get some work in. A good many of the reviews below were either written or outlined while sitting lakeside, accompanied by either a beer or an exquisite Bloody Mary and a perfect breeze. I would strongly suggest you read them in a similar setting (you may not find a local lake with wi-fi but you can certainly crack a beer or frankenstein together a decent Bloody Mary), or you can read it in the library and imagine the rest.
Either way, enjoy a handful of relaxed vacation reviews (and a Bloody Mary … go on, you know you want one).
In the disposable culture of today’s music industry, it’s almost inconceivable that a band could stay together for close to 40 years without the benefit of sustained platinum sales/arena-seating success while rising from a relatively narrow niche. Inconceivable for most bands, but clearly not a problem for the massively talented Los Lobos, which formed in 1973 and shot to prominence with their magnificent debut, How Will the Wolf Survive?. The band has been answering that title question for the past quarter century, oblivious and impervious to prevailing trends, making the music they love for a multi-cultural audience that loves them for it.
On Tin Can Trust, Los Lobos’ latest (and debut for Shout! Factory), the gifted L.A. quintet (David Hidalgo, Cesar Rosas, Louie Perez, Conrad Lozano and Steve Berlin) does best what they have always done well — combine the members’ Mexican Folk/Cumbia heritage with an unflinching love of Blues, Rock, Country and R&B, and make a brilliant hybrid sound that is unmistakably their own.
The band’s brilliance over its recorded history is that every subsequent album has advanced its evolution and yet sounded fresh and vibrant enough to be a sophomore album. Tin Can Trust faithfully follows that blueprint, from the laconically edgy “Burn It Down” (featuring backing vocals from Blues stylist Susan Tedeschi) to the loping Blues Rock of “On Main Street” to the gorgeously Waitsian melancholic burn of “Jupiter or the Moon.”
As always, Los Lobos directly and seamlessly reference their musical and cultural heritage with “Yo Canto” and “Mujer Ingrata,” songs that flow seamlessly into the set like the diverse playlist of a border radio station.
The scruffy John Hiatt-esque balladry of the title cut, the Blues-fueled shuffle of the instrumental “Do the Murray,” the slow-fuse explosion of “All My Bridges Burning” and the slinky-jam cover of the Grateful Dead’s “West L.A. Fadeaway” would all be highlights on an album with lesser songs to point up their greatness. But no such songs exist on Tin Can Trust, another flawless example of Los Lobos’ timeless genius.
Magic doesn’t begin to describe the rise of The Magic Numbers since their formation in 2002. Comprised of two brother/sister pairs — Romeo and Michele Stodart and Sean and Angela Gannon — the Numbers roared out of the London suburb of Greenford two years after putting the band together, making fans within their musical peer group and securing opening gigs for the likes of Snow Patrol, Travis and Ed Harcourt. The Numbers’ eponymous debut in 2005 generated a huge buzz, great press and was shortlisted for that year’s Mercury Music Prize. In 2006, Those the Brokes raised the band’s profile even higher, earning them an opening slot for The Who’s Southampton show and an appearance at the 2007 Glastonbury Festival.
After a hiatus that encompassed much of 2008 and 2009, the Numbers began work late last year on The Runaway, their further homage to the golden age of ’60s AM Pop. Utilizing elements of psychedelic Folk and baroque Pop melodicism, and then shifting the songwriting down a similar gear pattern, the Numbers have perfected a winning formula that references the past while charging toward the future.
“The Pulse” opens The Runaway with swelling Jimmy Webb-like strings on a song that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on a Mamas and the Papas album circa 1969, a vibe that continues unabated on the gentle psychedelic Pop of “Hurts So Good,” where the Beach Boys collide with the Polyphonic Spree. On “Why Did You Call?,” the Numbers sound like Fleetwood Mac v.5, led by the children of Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, while “A Start With No Ending” and “Once I Had” have the shimmer of Matthew Sweet or Billy Corgan if they’d been steered by the baroque Pop of the ’60s rather than the glammy guitar squall of the ’70s.
The album's second half finds the Numbers getting slightly more expansive, like a contemporary collaboration between Ivy and Lee Hazelwood, but there’s not a jarring difference in the transition as the quartet relies on similar elements and themes, easing back to their original stringed, romantic Pop on “The Song That No One Knows.”
The Magic Numbers do a nice job of accessing Classic Pop themes on The Runaway without being constrained by them, effectively straddling Pop’s epic past and bold Indie future.
As the de facto house band for the Daptone label, The Budos Band has become more than adept at a broad variety of Soul and Funk styles, staying faithful to Detroit, Memphis, Chicago and New York sounds while at the same time contemporizing and refining them into its own unique methodology.
That Staten Island Soul process is front and center on the third Budos Band “solo” release, Budos Band III. Soul diversity abounds on the album, with the noirish detective Prog/Jazz of “Nature’s Wrath” and “Golden Dunes,” which slinks like a Traffic jam with Ska horns and a justifiably funkier-than-thou attitude. “Budos Dirge” recasts ? & and the Mysterians as Memphis session masters, folding in shades of Sly and the Family Stone and Latin-tinged blasts of El Chicano and Thee Midnighters. From the Stax-on-steroids Soul shake of “Rite of the Ancients” to the Jazz/Funk voodoo menace of “Black Venom” to the Motown/Memphis gene splice of “River Serpentine,” the Budos Band inhabit its psychedelic Afro-Soul instrumentals like The Bar-Kays of the late ’60s (if they’d had the use of a musical time machine). The band has an authentic ear for the past, a brilliantly tuned ear for the future (exemplified by a fascinating reimagining of The Beatles’ “Day Tripper”) and a sound that rejects slavish revivalism and embraces Soul’s evolution in the new millennium.
Instrumental music, by its wordless nature, needs to communicate on a visceral and subtle level, imparting its message with an emotional purity that relies on presentation rather than an actual narrative. 3 Leg Torso does that very thing with an almost inconceivable eclecticism, cooking up a musical stew that encompasses a dizzying rack of sonic spices, from Classical formalism, off-kilter Klezmer and freewheeling Gypsy Jazz to Avant Garde carnival soundtracks, European Chamber Jazz and Slavic Folk traditions.
On 3LT’s fifth album, Animals & Cannibals, the group creates a marvelous tapestry of sound, a controlled madness that easily taps into varied directions simultaneously, sounding like a tribute to Dvorak and Carl Stallings, conceived by Astor Piazzola, Poi Dog Pondering, Gogol Bordello and The Decemberists and conducted by Frank Zappa.
The album is beyond eclectic, veering madly between structure and chaos as 3LT shifts effortlessly from compositional precision that is breathtakingly beautiful to cartoonish looseness that is just as impressive in its madcap schizophrenia.
While 3 Leg Torso may exude a veritable goulash of musical ideas, the resultant sound never gives any indication of being scattered or an unfocused and patched together pastiche of influences. Instead, it comes together as a delightful blending of genres into a fantastically unclassifiable whole.
Until last year, Ron Franklin seemed content to maintain his solo path and fill his press kit with glowing praise for his Jimmie Rodgers-meets-Dylan-in-a-garage take on Blues and Folk. But last summer, Franklin was drawn back to the band concept. Prior to his solo incarnation, he’d done the group thing in Memphis with The Natural Kicks and The Tearjerkers, among many others, and even claimed brief membership in a latterday version of Arthur Lee’s Love. Now he has formed Gasoline Silver, his first band in a good many years.
For his eponymous debut with Gasoline Silver, Franklin folds a diverse collection of sonic elements into his propulsive yet thoughtful presentation, appointing the New York Punk swagger of The Voidoids and New York Dolls with a lyrical, pretzel logic that recalls Dylan and the similarly (and wonderfully) conflicted Peter Case. “It’s All Over But the Cryin’” has the Garage simplicity and fisted-face ethos of a Stooges demo, “The Wild Farewell” quivers with Dylanesque emotion and “Indianapolis” bristles with the breakneck verve of Richard Hell if he’d been reared in the Midwest. The synth pulse and guitar squall of “A Heart of Glitter” sounds like an effective and unlikely blending of New Wave, Punk, Synth Pop and Folk, while “Miss Cape Canaveral” has the dissonant melodicism of a collaboration between John Hiatt and Iggy Pop.
Gasoline Silver is raw in presentation but sophisticated in concept, like the basement tapes of T Bone Burnett and Jim Carroll. It deserves a wildly bigger audience than it’s likely to attract.