Rhapsody Streamnotes: September 23, 2008

September 23, 2008 Notebook

I thought with no Jazz Prospecting this week it would be an opportune time to dump out the ongoing Rhapsody file.

These are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Rhapsody. They are snap judgments based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on April 17. It is at least a way to keep up on new releases without having to track down all that product. Past notes are collated here.

Conor Oberst (2008, Merge): Eponymous album from singer-songwriter who always worked behind an alias before. One thing I have to admit is that he sounds much more confident. I bought two of his Bright Eyes albums, played them a few times, but they're still sitting on the unrated shelf. Streamed Cassadaga from Rhapsody and gave it a somewhat equivocal snap grade. Played this one twice, and it's finally making sense, which may or may not help the older albums. Songs are sharply conceived, mostly memorable, a few quite striking. A-

Mike Edison and the Rocket Train Delta Science Arkestra: I Have Fun Everywhere I Go (2008, Interstellar Roadhouse): Memoirs of a magazine editor -- Screw, Main Event, High Times -- declaimed loud over punk-noisy electro-boogie, with a soupçon of heavy metal thrown in for the Ozzy Osborne story, and some more straightforward punk for "GG Allin Died Last Night" -- my favorite piece here, probably because I like the line declining to go to an Allin concert ("why spoil the mood?"). "Space Bop" is about volunteering for NASA then getting second thoughts after Challenger blew up. "Jews for Jesus" is about how Jesus is cooler than most Christians. B+(***)

Patti Smith/Kevin Shields: The Coral Sea (2005-06 [2008], TBC, 2CD): Shields is from My Bloody Valentine, a group that tried to pass off slightly sweetened noise as pop and sometimes got away with it. I gather this is guitar-and-effects here, although at first I just thought mild-mannered synth -- it does get louder, especially on the second set/disc. Smith reads her poetry -- a tribute and elegy for Robert Mapplethorpe -- over the din. More or less interesting, sometimes striking, although nothing that really catches gear like, say, Horses. B+(*)

Lil Wayne: Tha Carter III (2008, Cash Money/Universal): Way behind on this guy: I picked up two of the mixtapes, but haven't had time for them yet, and haven't heard any of the previous Tha Carters. This seems kind of wobbly at first, although some bits deliver wit, especially "Mrs. Officer," a twist on NWA's "Fuck Tha Police." Gets better from that point, although I still don't have a good sense of what he's up to. B+(***) [later: A-]

The Bug: London Zoo (2008, Ninja Tune): Kevin Martin, illbient dub producer, third album. I liked the last one, Pressure, from way back in 2003 quite a bit. This one is, well, illbient dub. Tippa Irie, Ricky Ranking, someone called Flowdan -- pretty harsh voices to go with the hard knocks beats. B+(*)

Paul Weller: 22 Dreams (2008, Yep Roc): Twenty-two songs, evidently a 2-CD set, although it didn't seem that long -- not that I paid a lot of attention. I hadn't heard anything by Weller since the Jam, a punchy little rock group that slipped through the British punk stream even though they didn't quite fit. Weller went on to form the Style Council, which lasted through the 1980s without ever inspiring me to listen in, and now has a dozen or so albums under his own name. Always well-regarded in England; never much of a name in the US. Certainly a pro; just not sure how far removed that makes him from a hack. B

Black Kids: Partie Traumatic (2008, Almost Gold/Columbia): One thing I don't get is the relationship between this Jacksonville group of black (and not so black) youngsters of both sexes with Robert Smith of the Cure. For starters, the latter is depressive, and these kids are exuberant -- wouldn't call them "kids" otherwise, would you? Churning keybs, new wave beats, a comic kiddie chorus. Two or three great songs -- I'm on the fence about "I Wanna Be Your Limousine," but not "Listen to Your Body Tonight" or "I'm Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance." B+(***)

Miley Cyrus: Breakout (2008, Disney): Teen pop star, previously marketed as Hannah Montana, but now that she's 16 they're moving her into the next niche on the ladder. Still, without her bio I wouldn't have pegged this as teen pop. Seems more like failsafe power pop; nothing interesting in the voice, nothing that suggests, uh, personality. B-

Jonas Brothers: A Little Bit Longer (2008, Hollywood): Teen pop group, three brothers, now on their third album, with the younger brother, Nick Jonas (b. 1992), getting out ahead with some solo recordings. Starts off sounding pretty good, with some nuance to crunchy pop-rock. Tails off toward the end, and "Sorry" -- the big power ballad move -- is quite awful. B+(*)

Katy Perry: One of the Boys (2008, Capitol): The things a girl will do to get noticed: "Ur So Gay," "I Kissed a Girl," "One of the Boys." Those are all fun, and "Hot N Cold" is even better. Doesn't hold up all the way to the end, but makes a showy splash. B+(*)

Del McCoury: Moneyland (2008, McCoury Music): I've seen this attributed to McCoury, a bluegrass journeyman who was born a couple of years before Franklin Roosevelt, who chats at the beginning and end, took office. I've also seen it chalked up to Various Artists, which is probably more accurate, as it starts with Bernard "Slim" Smith's 1931 "Breadline Blues," and includes recognizable pieces by Merle Haggard, Emmylou Harris, Chris Knight, Patty Loveless, Mac Wiseman, and others, including four cuts by McCoury. We haven't exactly returned to the Great Depression, but sometimes it pinches like it, especially when you see how money struts across the land. Take away message: "vote away the blues/the breadline blues." B+(***)

Alan Jackson: Good Time (2008, Arista): Neotrad standard, Jackson is settling into a very comfortable middle age with his 14th album. The songs come easy, in part because he never tries to say anything that conflicts with conventional wisdom. His "Small Town Southern Man" is an archetype of modest decency, just like the hillbilly Jesus would be "If Jesus Walked the World Today." Jackson hasn't moved up or out. He claims "I Still Like Bologna," and there's no reason to doubt him, but also note that he bothers to spell the word correctly instead of phoneticizing it out. A-

Laura Cantrell: Trains and Boats and Planes (1996-2008 [2008], Diesel Only, EP): Alt-country singer-songwriter, had two good albums on this label 2000-02, then one I haven't heard on Matador in 2005. Not sure if she's coming or going, or just marking time. This is billed as a digital-only EP, with six newly recorded covers, plus three "bonus tracks" from old albums (one original). She's on top of the mixed batch of smartly chosen covers: the Bacharach-David title cut, Roger Miller, Merle Haggard, Gordon Lightfoot, John Hartford, and one from New Order. B+(*)

Rebecca Lynn Howard: No Rules (2008, Saguaro Road): Country singer, third or fourth album, has a big voice, fond of R&B flourishes. Most songs are arranged for Nashville pop-opera, and she oversings like crazy. I remember when "diva" was a thesaurus word -- something you'd drop into a review as a change of pace, preferably ironic. I'm getting to where I regret ever having used the word. C+

Glen Campbell: Meet Glen Campbell (2008, Capitol): A legendary studio session guitarist in the 1960s -- even toured with the Beach Boys -- with a long list of real (and possibly imagined) credits: Ricky Nelson, Bobby Darin, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Elvis Presley, the Mamas and the Papas, the Monkees, the Troggs, the Velvet Underground? (Must be: he does "Jesus" here.) He's recorded one or more albums every year since 1962's Big Bluegrass Special, with chart-topping country/pop albums concentrated around 1967-69, leading to his TV variety show in 1969-72, with a couple more hit albums as late as 1977, and many more after that. Married four times, not counting a notorious fling with Tanya Tucker. Owns his own golf tournament. I'm old enough to have lived through all this, and in all this time I've never felt compelled to buy a single one of his albums -- not even a best-of. Thought this one might be when I dialed it up, but these are new recordings, a covers album, with nothing rootsy and a couple of very odd choices (of which "Jesus" is the best). His guitar is like a threshing machine, chewing through whatever terrain is put in front of it. Keyboards turn whatever's left to mulch. His voice has lost its lightness. Not the best time to meet up with him, but when was it ever? C

Buddy Guy: Skin Deep (2008, Silvertone/Zomba): After BB King, he reigns as the elder blues eminence, but he got his start early, and is still just 72. First new album since 2001's Sweet Tea. Like John Lee Hooker, he's padding his late career with guests. (Don't have the doc, so this may be partial: Eric Clapton, Robert Randolph, Susan Tedeschi, Derek Trucks, Jack White. Still, almost everything worthwhile here is indubitably Buddy Guy. Strikes me as, if anything, too upbeat, and can grow tedious. Exception: the "we're all the same" title song. B+(*)

George Strait: Troubadour (2008, MCA Nashville): Since 1981, probably the straightest, most consistent neotrad country singer around. Only reason I qualify that is that I've skipped almost all of his albums, only periodically turning in to his compilations, which against greater odds invariably feel consistent. Not sure how much he writes -- looks like nothing here. Was starting to have doubts halfway through, but closes strong with "House With No Doors" ("you can't make a woman feel something she don't/and you can't build a house with no doors") and "If Heartaches Were Horses" (didn't jot that one down). B+(*)

Sugarland: Love on the Inside (2008, Mercury Nashville): Countryish pop-rock duo -- singer Jennifer Nettles has twang, so does guitarist Kristian Bush. Third record, all bestsellers. First two songs sound promising, featuring jumpy beats and choppy hooks, but they're soon negated by two awful power ballads. Then they retool "Long Black Veil" as "Genevieve," copping a bit of roots sound for something about a babysitter. Put it all together and you get the arena-ready pro-tattoo "Take Me as I Am," which is far enough over the top I almost like it. Better still is "Steve Earle," where they turn on the country charm to beg Earle to write them a song. B

Hamell on Trial: Songs for Parents Who Enjoy Drugs (2006, Righteous Babe): Couldn't find Ed Hamell's latest, called Rant and Roll, but I've long wanted to hear this one. First song is called "Inquiring Minds": about what you tell your kids when they get too nosey. Pretty hit and miss from there on, but a definite his is one about trying to teach a 3-year-old wiseacre something about "Values." B+(***)

The Felice Brothers (2008, Team Love): Americana outfit, shades of Dylan in the vocals and the Band in the organ, but thinner, washed out, faded. A bit like the Pernice Brothers, but not quite there. B+(*)

Flogging Molly: Float (2008, Side One Dummy): Los Angeles group, thinks they're the second coming of the Pogues, making up in speed and volume what they lack in insight or new ideas -- which is quite a lot. B-

Fleet Foxes (2008, Sub Pop): Seattle group, first album, has gotten a lot of attention (Metacritic score: 88). They claim to have grown up on 1960s music, the most obvious effect an overdose of Beach Boys harmonics, all the odder for the lack of appropriate voices. The effect is arty. The artwork, by the way, is another 1960s throwback, to Pearls Without Swine. B-

Alejandro Escovedo: Real Animal (2008, Back Porch/Manhattan): Singer-songwriter, started out in alt-country Rank and File, and has gone on to record 10 or so albums since 1992. Was on the ropes a couple of years ago with Hepatitis C, yielding a tribute album to raise some scratch, but evidently he's gotten through that -- does give "People (We're Only Gonna Live So Long)" an extra shot of authority. But he's also singing louder and clearer than usual, and the songs have more punch, probably because they're all co-written with Chuck Prophet. Almost rockabilly, with some politics and joie de vivre. B+(***)

Jeffrey Lewis: 12 Crass Songs (2008, Rough Trade): Anti-folk singer, underground comic book artist, has several past albums which I probably should have noticed but didn't. Sounds a lot like the Moldy Peaches, if you remember them, except older and more worldly, and for that matter more repulsed by said world -- like the Moldy Peaches, he works with a female singer, evidently Helen Schreiner, who does a pretty fair Kimya Dawson impersonation. Not sure what Crass is or where it comes from or what it's doing here. According to AMG, the songs are attributed to: Ignorant, Rimbaud, Libertine, Wright, and Devivre. But what I can say is that this is some of the most politically subversive music I've ever heard. Pretty good, too. A-

Justin Adams: Soul Science (2007 [2008], World Village): English guitarist-producer, worked with Jah Wobble, moved into North/West African music, specifically Saharan blues, the sort of thing that gets touted for its resemblance to John Lee Hooker, although in this case Bo Diddley isn't out of the question either. Adding to the effect is Gambian singer Juldeh Camara, who renders it just foreign enough. B+(**)

Kasai Allstars: In the 7th Moon, the Chief Turned Into a Swimming Fish and Ate the Head of His Enemy by Magic (2008, Crammed Discs): Kinshasa group, or aggregation of groups, part of Crammed's "congotronics" series, not as intensely noisy as Konono No. 1, but along the same lines. B+(***)

Brian Wilson: That Lucky Old Sun (2008, Capitol): Hard to tell from two plays how deep this might eventually sink in. I know the title song mostly from Louis Armstrong, and even he has trouble redeeming its soupiness, but Wilson makes good use of it, reprising it several times as he works it into his smiley tapestry. Also reprised is the whole narrative of the Beach Boys, sometimes pulling old bits out, sometimes recreating them (e.g., "Forever She'll Be My Surfer Girl"), sometimes just to perpetuate the juvenilia. I'm not swept away, but am at least moderately amused. B+(**)

Raphael Saadiq: The Way I See It (2008, Columbia): At best, this sounds like vintage Motown, even when Stevie Wonder isn't guesting. At worst it sounds like vintage Gamble-Huff, which, come to think of it, isn't too shabby either. A- [later: A]

Late of the Pier: Echoclistel Lambietroy (2008, Astralwerks, EP): Five cuts, dance-timed, high-NRG. Didn't get a clear listen due to download problems, but it hit an irritating nerve -- reminded me a bit of Frankie Goes to Hollywood. B-

Okkervil River: The Stand Ins (2008, Jagjaguwar): Austin TX group, strikes me as an Americana version of the Cure: the melodicism is unexceptional but gains substance when the leader has something to say, and the pseudo-depth of what is said becomes tolerable given the melodicism. A lot of people like this band a lot. I can sort of see why, but mostly don't mind them much. B+(*)

Leon Ware: Moon Ride (2008, Stax): Motown songwriter, cut a few records over the years. Has a smooth style, lots of cooing and wooing. Reminds you of some classic singers, but not really one of them. B+(*)

Martha Wainwright: I Know You're Married but I've Got Feelings Too (2008, Zoë): Didn't notice any lyrics, which means she lacks the wit of her father, or her mother, or maybe even her brother. Picks up a notch when she rocks harder, or when she takes it real simple, but not when she flirts with Kate Bush. Covers Syd Barrett and Eurythmics. B-

Records I looked up but didn't find on Rhapsody:

  • Firewater: The Golden Hour (Bloodshot)
  • Four Tet: Ringer EP (Domino)
  • Hamell on Trial: Rant and Roll (Righteous Babe)
  • Wire: Object 47 (Pink Flag)
  • Wolf Parade: Kissing the Beehive (Sub Pop)

The following were written for Recycled Goods or Jazz Prospecting:

Louis Armstrong: Live at the 1958 Monterey Jazz Festival (1958 [2007], MJF): Well, if you've heard one Armstrong live set, you'll probably want to hear them all; post-All Stars, so there's less reason to share the stage; late enough that those "good ole good 'uns" include "Mack the Knife." B+(**)

Miles Davis Quintet: Live at the 1963 Monterey Jazz Festival (1963 [2007], MJF): Early into the second great Davis Quintet, with Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams on board, along with George Coleman on tenor sax; compared to the live albums from 1964, this seems tentative and thin, reworking old repertoire, with a few hints of the future. B+(**)

Dizzy Gillespie: Live at the 1965 Monterey Jazz Festival (1965 [2007], MJF): Small group with James Moody (flute, tenor sax), Kenny Barron (piano), and Big Black (congas), running through a mixed bag of bebop, with the calypso "Poor Joe" thrown in for Gillespie's vocal. Sound is a little thin, and it's all very slapdash, not least the comedy. B+(*)

Thelonious Monk: Live at the 1964 Monterey Jazz Festival (1964 [2007], MJF): Four terrific quartet tracks, with tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse in splendid form, and the pianist especially delightful on "Bright Mississippi" -- a Monkified "Sweet Georgia Brown." Five extra horns show up for the Buddy Collette-sketched encores, with hot boppish trumpet and more funky piano. A-

Nigeria Disco Funk Special: The Sound of the Underground Lagos Dancefloor 1974-79 (1974-79 [2008], Soundway): Long funk instrumentals by long-forgotten obscurities -- T-Fire, Bongos Ikwue, Dr. Adolf Ahanotu, the Sahara All Stars of Jos, you get the idea -- some with superficial lyrics. Nothing special, but they do keep it coming, the sine qua non of disco funk. B+(*)

Nigeria Rock Special: Psychedelic Afro-Rock & Fuzz Funk in 1970s Nigeria (1970s [2008], Soundway): When the local riddims take charge, as on Original Wings' "Igba Alusi," you wonder why they ever settled for stodgy old rock grooves -- I mean, were they that impressed with Ginger Baker? More groups I recognize, but mostly from similar comps; an admirable piece of history, and it has its moments. B+(**)

Sarah Vaughan: Live at the 1971 Monterey Jazz Festival (1971 [2007], MJF): A singer I've never much liked even though sometimes I can hear some of what others hear in her -- the unworldly deep voice, the extraordinary precision and uncanny musican sense in her dynamics; this is not the place to start: her range is narrowed by time and most likely by acoustics, and she scats way too much -- especially in the blistering all-star jam that takes up the last third of the album. B