Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Van Der Graaf- Ship of Fools

The ship left port. The MP3 is gone.

I'm outing myself. Yes, I went through a prog rock phase. Back in the day, I was partial to Genesis, King Crimson, Gong, and even Kansas. Starting in 1976, I began to hear the Sex Pistols, the Ramones and Television. My Kansas t-shirt became a dishrag. But Van Der Graaf Generator still sounded punk as anything. Peter Hammill's sneer cracks me up, and I love how this live release from '78 sounds like they're playing to only a couple dozen worshipful louts. Note: 6:44.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Blue-Eyed Son- Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Sorry friend- you're too late.

Listeners have complained that Blue-Eyed Son is a total Elliott Smith ripoff. They're wrong. Blue-Eyed Son plunders Bob Dylan's Blood On the Tracks with equal gusto. And what of it? It just shows that Blue-Eyed Son mastermind Andew Heilprin applied his great taste to 2004's West of Lincoln. I dare you not to sing along with Self-Fulfilling Prophecy's confessional folk-rock.

Monday, November 28, 2005

The Kansas City Gospel Wonders- Talkin' About a Good Time

The good times are over. The MP3 is gone.

All music is best experienced live, but perhaps no form is more reliant on the interaction between performer and audience than black gospel. And since this group lacks a spectacular voice, and because the recording is a little thin, internet listeners may need to imagine the congregation's call and response to fully appreciate the Kansas City Gospel Wonders. Still, the message and groove are strong enough for even non-believers to feel it. Obtaining this 1999 CD outside of Kansas City will be tough; let me know if you need a copy and I'll scour the local mom-and-pop shops for you.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Capitol Years- Mounds of Money

The MP3 is gone.

2005 has been a great year for monstrous guitar songs. The White Stripes continued their hot streak with Blue Orchid. There was no escaping Weezer's smash Beverly Hills. And the Capitol Years hit it big with Mounds of Money. What's that? This wasn't a hit? That's preposterous! This song is two minutes of ridiculously sharp hooks, perfect fuzzy production, and more energy than a case of Red Bull. It's not too late to make it happen- there's still a month to get behind these Philly boys and their brilliantly titled Let Them Drink CD.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Bobbie Cryner- He Feels Guilty

The MP3 is gone.

Cheating, lust and fenceposts- now that's what I call country. Cryner's dusky voice is reminiscent of Wynonna Judd's, and it must have been a hangover from the Judd franchise's domination that prevented this song from ruling the charts in 1993. Aside from its annoying drum sound, the Nashville production allows the soulful Cryner to pour out her pain like a country Aretha. Completists should know that this disc also includes a convincing duet with Dwight Yoakam.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Shirley Horn- He's Gone Again

The MP3 is gone.

I never felt entirely welcome in Shirley Horn's rarified musical world. She was cool and sophisticated; I have dirt under my fingernails. The jazz musician died on October 20. This exceedingly quiet piece from The Garden of the Blues is a fine example of her delicate style. It's a portrait of heartbreak in formal wear. (Note- song is 6:10.)

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Chris Whitley- Crystal Ship

The MP3 is gone.

The blues was once a dangerous, incendiary music. But America has a way of watering down its original art forms. Today, most blues has become just another way to sell prefabricated good times.

Chris Whitley was the exception. The musician is reported to have died yesterday at the age of 45. Whitley was the real deal- a scary and uncompromising bluesman. Careful listening to Whitley’s haunted voice and peerless guitar work reveals the hellhounds on his trail. While remaining wholly unique, Whitley was our modern Robert Johnson.

Perfect Day, the covers disc pictured in the photo, is good. My favorite Whitley release, however, is the terrifying Live At Martyrs’. And his second CD, Din of Ecstacy, was truly shocking when it was released in 1995. Whitley’s debut CD, Living With the Law, was an epic, mainstream production and sold very well. He was on his way to filling stadiums. Then came Din of Ecstacy, which as its title suggests, was more Sonic Youth than Stevie Ray Vaughan. Whitley was an unpredictable wild card.

True artists are a rare breed. That small number has decreased by one.

Masters of Reality- John Brown

You're Too Late!

I could never get into Cream. They seemed too deliberate and pretentious. Their recent ecstatically received reunion tour baffled me. So why do I love Masters of Reality, who are really nothing more than an excellent Cream tribute band? For starters, they're hilarious. And their heavy crunch is pushed to 11 by Rick Rubin's production on this 1988 release. Careful- it's dangerous to laugh and bang your head simultaneously.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Pomeroy- She's Dangerous

Too late!

Every fun-loving student who's attended a central Midwestern university in the last five years is intimately familiar with Pomeroy. The band provides a default soundtrack for dancing, making out, and vomiting. Pomeroy's blend of pop, metal and hip hop make them the rare party act that kids of all backgrounds can agree on. She's Dangerous is one of four new songs inside Pomeroy's new Live At the Blue Note concert DVD package. It sounds like nothing so much as a Michael Jackson remix, and serves as a proven remedy for bumping the noxious My Humps out of non-stop rotation in your brain.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Ultramagnetic MC's- Checkin My Style

You're Too Late!

I’ve never known what the hell Kool Keith was talking about, and this track from 1993 is no exception. Even so, this is hilarious stuff- the random references include Sunday morning, the Flinstones, male strippers and panties. I understand the murky production is due to an ineptly recorded live band. The sonic sludge is incredibly effective. This must be why Keith brags about not needing samples from Anthrax, Bohannan or Chic. (The Four Horsemen CD is out of print.)

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Jimmy Rowles- I've Grown Accustomed To Her Face

The song is gone.

That's not singing, it's talking in tune. The worst voices are often given to the smartest singers. Pianist Jimmy Rowles is best known for his work with Billie Holiday. His cracked voice on this standard is reminiscent of Billie's tragic sound on Lady In Satin. But while Billie seemed utterly defeated, Rowles is wry and charming. This 1988 session seems to be out of print, but plenty of other titles Rowles titles are available.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Freddy Fender- Tu Se Vas

You're too late!

I love Aaron Neville. And I’m glad I can turn on the TV and hear his distinctive warble selling a plethora of products. I just wish that Freddy Fender, a similarly-voiced veteran, enjoyed the same iconic status. You can’t say he hasn’t earned it. He’s been laying down incredible music for decades. What’s the big news for Fender in 2005? According to his own website, Fender had an elevated water storage tank dedicated to him in honor of his 67th birthday in his hometown of San Benito, TX. That’s nice and all, but c’mon! Where are you, Rick Rubin? How about it, Anti? Check out this genre-bending cover of Barbara Lynn’s You’ll Lose a Good Thing. If you're keeping score, it's a soul singer doing a Spanish-language cover of a blues ballad with a countrypolitan production. Exitos En Espanol's fourteen other songs are just as compelling.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Kelpie- Rail

Too late- the MP3 is gone.

My pal Matt asked me to write some prose for Kelpie's press kit, the first release on Birthday Party Records. Here are a few excerpts from my comments about the young Lawrence, KS, band:

Kelpie's music is intentionally half-baked. In the topsy-turvy alternate world of Kelpie it's possible that the boys abducted Brian Wilson, provided him with a sandbox filled with hallucinogens, and recorded the resulting jam session. While he's not credited on the disc, Sgt. Pepper must have pieced together the ambitious harmonies, delirious lyrics, funhouse piano, and odd drum patterns while blindfolded.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Ted Hawkins- There Stands the Glass

You're too late!

From the moment I decided to name this forum There Stands the Glass, I knew that Ted Hawkins' version of Webb Pierce's song would be the subject of my inaugural post. Hawkins had recorded a handful of phenomenal recordings, most notably for Rounder, but it wasn't until his major label release The First Hundred Years in '94 that he received broad exposure. Hawkins toured nationally to support it; he opened each show with There Stands the Glass. This piercing cry served notice to the audience that they were in the presence of one of the greats. If you're not already hip to Hawkins, The First Hundred Years is the most accessible entry point. This live CD, The Final Tour, is also excellent. Ultimately, Rounder's Happy Hour and Watch Your Step, which showcase his devastating original songs like Sorry You're Sick and Strange Conversation, are Hawkin's most exciting efforts.