Thursday, June 29, 2006


Frank London's Klezmer Brass Allstars: Carnival Conspiracy (Piranha, 2006). The difference between your basic bar mitzvah band and the truly unique world-vision eastern-European Yiddish band the Klezmatics became famous for may be a fine line, but damn if London doesn't skirt it brilliantly. While I confess to being no expert on the history of the music, its Ukrainian folk roots aided by a mix of Brazilian rhythm put this album over the top for me. In deed, I'm thinking it's this years Gogol Bordello. A little less anarchic, but still steeped in the Gypsy tradition. A

Rhett Miller: The Believer (Verve Forecast, 2006). Like Paul Westerberg before him, he finds life in the solo lane to be both liberating and challenging at the same time. Unlike Westerberg, he's up for the challenge. While I still miss the Old 97's, if for no other reason that I still feel a good, tight band is both essential and rare these days, Miller's vocals can front better than most singers in the biz. And lyrically, he's matured quite nicely. In "Help Me, Suzanne" he laments, "I've been living on the memory of a dream I once had." And then he goes on to thank her for helping him find his way out of his despair. He's humble, if nothing else, another rare quality among otherwise talented singer/songwriters. A-

Arctic Monkees: Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not (Domino, 2006). Musically, as well as lyrically, Alex Taylor reminds you of Kurt Cobain. There is a definite "Nevermind" connection here I can't quite get out of my head. And, like Nirvana before them, they have a penchant for the sardonic. Check out the lyrics in the "hit" track, "I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor." "Your name isn't Rio, but I don't care for sand." But my personal fave is "When the Sun Goes Down," if for no other reason than they poke fun of Sting: "And I've seen him with the girls of the night / and he told Roxanne to put on her red light." Anybody who can jump from Duran Duran to the Police, and who technically wasn't even born when those two groups were around is on to something I want to be a part of. A-

Saturday, June 17, 2006


Taking 4 months off from a hobby that at times seemed more work than delight, I thought it was time to come back and share some insight into some new releases this year. Even hobbyists have to show up for work sometimes!

Kimya Dawson: Remember That I Love You (K, 2006). Calling Dawson an acquired taste seems pointless at this stage. She is now one of the preeminent singer/songwriters of the decade. She's witty, sincere, and a champion of the minimalist school. She also has a way with words. Anyone who can put rhymes like adios, ghost, coast, host and toast in the same song and make them work has my heart. In deed she bares a strange resemblance to another square peg: Stephin Merritt. The cross she bares is the reason she's so beloved, and, while the human in me hopes she finally finds the peace that's been missing from her life, the critic is pulling for more of the same misery. Selfish perhaps, but then I also thought Amy Rigby was better when she was baring her soul from a bathroom stall. A-

Van Morrison: Pay the Devil (Lost Highway, 2006). It isn't that I don't think Van has it in him to go country; it's that he's taken the wrong cue from what country should be. Talk about missed opportunities. He'd have been better off if he had teamed up with Garth Brooks for a benefit album - "Hands Across Nashville" or something. Sure he covers Hank and George - who the hell doesn't these days. But for all his country boy / honky tonk mannerisms, Morrison never convinces you he's the genuine article. You can't talk about the glass unless you've drunk from it. Actually the problem here lies not in the material, but in the handling of it. So far as I know, only one artist in the modern era has successfully crossed over from pop to country and that was Ray Charles. Van, you ain't no Ray Charles! B-.

Dr. John: Right Place, Right Time (Hyena, 2006). Seldom does an album come along that just begs to be played non-stop, especially a live album. This 1989 gig recorded at New Orleans' Tipitina's during Mardi Gras is so unabashedly good, it makes me wish I'd been there to hear it live. My only complaint: it's too damn short. Pick a song, any song. It doesn't matter. The man is in his element - he should never be allowed back in a studio again! If and when New Orleans ever gets back up on its feet, we should all make it a point to here him live down in the Big Easy! A

Wussy: Funeral Dress (Shake It, 2006). If you think that just because Chuck Cleaver is imparting his remarkable falsetto voice that this is supposed to be another Ass Ponys' album, get real. Actually, about the only familiar thing here is Cleaver's voice, but that's where the comparison ends. Joined by Lisa Walker, who complements Cleaver brilliantly, this band is smart and clever the way good groups are supposed to be. Lyrically it's dark, but without getting too morbid, something the Ass Ponys dabbled a bit too much in for my taste. And musically, there's equal parts cowboy twang and bohemian hippy- sort of like the Flying Burrito Brothers meets the Velvet Underground. A near perfect album. A