Rhapsody Streamnotes: June 9, 2010

Feeling frustrated by my inability to live with the records here. Several -- Nas, Hole, Balkan Beat Box, LCD Soundsystem -- I could imagine growing on me; some -- LCD Soundsystem -- might turn into irritants too. I did go back and give Elizabeth Cook an extra listen and wound up upgrading it, but I still have some qualms.

Usual caveats apply: 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 9. Past reviews and more information are available here.

Quasi: American Gong (2010, Kill Rock Stars): Portland group, mostly a vehicle for singer-songwriter Sam Coomes, originally a duo with Sleater-Kinney drummer Janet Weiss, more recently adding bassist Joana Bolme. Seventh album since 1997, frequency slowing down since 2001 (2, 3, 4 years). I don't often care for the slammed guitar crunch, and find the voice a bit off, but this strikes me as smarter than the norm and satisfying in various ways. Rhapsody refused a second play. B+(**)

Balkan Beat Box: Blue Eyed Black Boy (2010, Crammed Discs): Wandering cosmopolitans originally from Israel, Tamir Muskat and Ori Kaplan, made two records that fit their group name like a glove, and now they have a third, which keeps the Balkan brass and jack up their beats, borrowing mostly from reggae (or more precisely ragga, which is still too laid back for their purposes). B+(***)

Gogol Bordello: Trans-Continental Hustle (2010, American): Gypsy punk band led by a Ukrainian who passed through New York and wound up in Brazil, about the time a decade's worth of irresistibly upbeat records landed them on a major label with Rick Rubin producing. Christgau offered faint praise for this and the new Drive-By Truckers, a point I understand in the latter's case, but don't get here. Despite the acquisition of a bit of Portuguese, this is clearer than their norm -- less fevered, but they can still kick up a storm. A-

Jaguar Love: Hologram Jams (2009 [2010], Fat Possum): Portland, OR group, someone from Blood Brothers (which I never heard of) and someone from Pretty Girls Make Graves (which I have, and found a little histrionic for my taste). This could get histrionic too, but tuneful enough it's mostly just hyper, sometimes even coherent. Ends with a ratty cover of "Piece of My Heart." B+(***)

Danny Barnes: Pizza Box (2010, ATO): Recovering banjo player from the Bad Livers, rocks a little hard for country and sometimes thinks a little hard too, but rarely both at the same time. B+(**)

James Hand: Shadow on the Ground (2009, Rounder): A country singer-songwriter from Texas with nothing neo about his traditionalism. His honky tonk songs are drenched in pedal steel. B+(***)

James Hand: The Truth Will Set You Free (2006, Rounder): Previous album, first on a label anyone's heard of, so at age 54 you might figure he's been saving these songs up, but they're on average about par for his three-year-later follow-up. Same honky tonk, same pedal steel, same timeless themes. Can't read all the words on the album cover, but they may make for an extended title, starting with "Somewhere in Texas" and ending with "Listen Once, and the Truth Will Set You Free!" Title song is a revelation. B+(***)

Lyle Lovett: Natural Forces (2009, Lost Highway): Only three originals, including one co-credited to Kimble and another shared with Traditional, but I don't recognize any of the covers (except maybe "Bohemia") and they fit like pieces of the puzzle. B+(***)

The Holmes Brothers: Feed My Soul (2010, Alligator): Nominally a blues group, which is where old-fashioned soul singers find continuing employment, and this trio is so old-fashioned their soul reeks of gospel. But this time they ease up on the revival, and hang in for the long haul. B+(**)

Drakkar Sauna: 20009 (2009, Marriage): Lawrence, KS group, fifth album since 2004, a couple named Drakkansasauna and Jabraham Lincoln. AMG has them as anti-folk, which I take to suggest technical difficulties on their early albums; no such problem here, although sometimes their surrealism gets hard to live up to. Reminds me as much as anything of Canterbury in the 1970s, minus any hint of an English accent. B+(*)

Broken Bells (2010, Columbia): Yet another Dangermouse collaboration, this time with Shins guitarist James Mercer, who sings, but whose guitar rarely stands above the keybs. I won't call them dull, but maybe semigloss, a plasticky sheen that can't quite bring itself to shine. Does sneak up on you a bit, even though it's not what you'd call catchy. B+(*)

Titus Andronicus: The Monitor (2010, XL): NJ group, second album, uses a Civil War theme taking its name from the Union's ironclad warship. A lot of punkish swagger to the songs, reminds me of the Pogues, although they also namecheck Bruce Springsteen a couple of times. B+(***)

Gorillaz: Plastic Beach (2010, Virgin): Virtual group, mostly Damon Albarn and Dan the Automator, with guests ranging from Bobby Womack to Snoop Dogg to Lou Reed. I rather like Dan's raps -- cf. A Much Better Tomorrow -- which bring a whiff of recognition here, but find myself so disinterested in whole project none of this comes into focus. B

Laura Marling: I Speak Because I Can (2010, Astralwerks): British singer-songwriter, depends mostly on sharply stung guitar, a folk music move, but she comes off tougher, bleaker, more weathered -- surprising to find that she's 20, with two albums plus some miscellany. B+(**)

Elizabeth Cook: Welder (2010, Thirty One Tigers): Country singer, mostly her own songwriter, full of twang and sass, provocation even -- which put over her previous album, Balls. This is more scattered but also deeper, with the title falling out of one called "Heroin Addict Sister" that sneaks up and scares you. A-

Gil Scott-Heron: I'm New Here (2010, XL): Revolutionary prophet back in 1970, his spoken word shtick often taken as a precursor to rap although at the time I just figured him to be a wordslinging poet who couldn't sing. First album in more than 15 years, first since he turned 60. Does try to sing on a couple of blues, which are mediocre, but his spoken word packs a punch, mostly because it carries the weight of time. He didn't have that back in the day. Doesn't have the jazzy beats of Brian Jackson now. B+(*)

Nas/Damian "Jr. Gong" Marley: Distant Relatives (2010, Def Jam): Less certain that Nas is bringing the guns than that Damian is bringing the ganja, but Nas do stiffen up the reggae beats and toughen up the words, while Damian works more subtly. Several great moments, but feels a bit of, a synthesis that may take a few more plays than I have to shake out. Wish I felt more like celebrating Obama. B+(***)

Cock Lorge: Rise (2008, Tubbys Entertainment): Average folk rock put to use purveying explicit sex lyrics. One cut featuring Gregory Isaacs finds a groove and may disclose closet reggae fans. C+

Hole: Nobody's Daughter (2010, Mercury): Fourth Hole album, the third twelve years ago with a 2004 solo album splitting the interim. She's evidently much hated now, but this sounds impressive to me. Her songcraft almost exactly matches Kurt Cobain's, and I don't find her nearly as annoying, probably because she has an inner sense of survival where he was a mere suicide. Would score higher if I didn't think that grunge was the death of rock: I was similarly impressed by her solo album, America's Sweetheart, but haven't replayed it since. Still, I'm glad I heard this. B+(***)

Eric Bibb: Booker's Guitar (2008 [2010], Telarc): Second-generation folk bluesman, spare guitar and plain vocals. Has done this frequently since 1997's Good Stuff, the only other one I've heard. This one was cut live, easy and informal, probably his metier. Title song refers to "Booker White" -- presumably Bukka White. Clever pro-reading song, "Turning Pages," that will inevitably show up in children's comps. B+(***)

LCD Soundsystem: This Is Happening (2010, DFA/Virgin): Most likely this is catchier than it seemed at first, at least making for agreeable dance music. I find the vocals often a turnoff, and don't care much for the whistle/warble register although I can't say that it never works. Their fans will give it more of a shot. On the other hand, I didn't spend much more time with their/his poll-winning Sound of Silver and was swept away. B+(*) [later: B+(**)]

The Fall: Your Future Our Clutter (2010, Domino): Basic sound honed over 30 years is intact, although the lead-off song is so murky you suspect it's being drowned. A few songs later they have emerged high and dry, still with the thick riffing and barked vocals. Some more experimental stuff isn't a plus, but the standard issue is something. B+(*)

The John Moore Rock and Roll Trio: Roll Your Activator Volume 1 (2010, Greaser 2000): Cover adds, "Featuring the Loose Moorelles." Moore cut a couple of albums c. 1990, hooked into various bands from Jesus & Mary Chain to Art Brut but is best known for Black Box Recorder. Tries to burn through the first couple songs, taking "Long Tall Sally" faster than Little Richard and "Whole Lotta Shakin'" faster than Jerry Lee Lewis, hollow accomplishments. Does much better when he slows it down a bit, and he adds interesting sonic depth to terrific takes of "Nadine" and "Roadrunner." Album cover another throwback. B+(**)


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

  • Eric Alexander: Chim Chim Cheree (Venus)
  • Jakob Bro: Balladeering (Loveland)
  • Uri Caine: Bedrock: Plastic Temptation (Winter & Winter)
  • The Da Vincis: See You Tonight (Olympic)
  • Elephant9: Walk the Nile (Rune Grammofon)
  • Flying Lotus: Cosmogramma (Warp)
  • Fred Ho and the Green Monster Big Band: Celestial Green Monster (Mutable/Big Red Media)
  • Ben Holmes: Ben Holmes Trio (Independent Release)
  • Susie Ibarra: Drum Sketches (Innova)
  • Yusef Lateef/Adam Rudolph: Towards the Unknonwn (Meta)
  • Brian Lynch Afro Cuban Jazz Orchestra: Bolero Nights: For Billie Holiday (Venus)
  • Myra Melford's Be Bread: The Whole Tree Gone (Firehouse 12)
  • Allison Miller: Boom Tic Boom (Foxhaven)
  • Michael Mussilami Trio: Old Tea (Playscape)
  • Marcus Printup: Ballads All Night (Steeplechase)
  • Jimi Tenor/Tony Allen: Information Inspiration (Strut)
  • Rickey Woodard: Pineapple Delight (Wood and Wood)

Records I found but couldn't play:

  • Peter Karp & Sue Foley: He Said, She Said (Blind Pig)

Recycled Goods

The following were written during this period for Recycled Goods:

Beatles Beginnings: Quarrymen One: Skiffle - Country - Western (1926-59 [2009], Rhythm and Blues): Before the Beatles John Lennon and Paul McCartney had a covers band called the Quarrymen, heard only in a 1962 Hamburg bootleg, but legend has it they had a repertoire of 600 songs presumably including these 28. Roughly a third are English -- trad jazz and skiffle -- likely unfamiliar unless you're into Lonnie Donegan (three cuts); the others are American -- blues and pre-rock pop as well as country -- unless you want to quibble about Marlene Dietrich (or Ray Charles or Gene Vincent), and you'll recognize some of them: if not Fats Waller's "Your Feet's Too Big" at least Hank Williams' "Hey, Good Lookin'." Guessing on the dates -- the Blind Lemon Jefferson has to come from 1926-29, and only Vernon Dalhart might be earlier; the most recent is probably Donegan, who started around 1955. The Beatles tie-in strikes me as a chintzy way to sell history, but makes for a pregnantly idiosyncratic mixtape. Hope the booklet is helpful. A-

Beatles Beginnings: Quarrymen Two: Rock 'n' Roll (1952-59 [2009], Rhythm and Blues): Hard to go wrong here, what with the UK's 50-year copyright rule yielding prime cuts from Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, the Coasters, Carl Perkins, Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, the Everly Brothers, Lloyd Price -- only the Dell-Vikings and instrumentalists Bill Justis and Duane Eddy don't have must-hear best-ofs to move on to, and the former show up in better doo-wop comps everywhere. Skewed a bit to UK ears, where "Wild Cat" is especially prized. And I have to admit that a couple of these songs, like "Roll Over Beethoven" and "Honey Don't," I first heard on Beatles albums. A-

Black Tambourine (1989-92 [2010], Slumberland): DC twee pop group, released a single in 1991, cut a few more things like "Pam's Tan" on a 1989 label sampler, ultimately good for the 10-cut Complete Recordings in 1999, reproduced here along with six farther out outtakes, like a cover of "Heartbeat"; the proto-shoegaze drone and echo predominate, a protein cloak for the truly obscure. B+(**)

Cachao's Mambo All Stars: Como Siempre (2009, Sony/Eventus): Shades of Israel López, the late great Cuban bassist better known as Cachao; they get the basic moves right, but lack something -- perhaps a little magic in the bass. B+(**)

Roy Haynes Quartet: Out of the Afternoon (1962 [2007], Impulse): Cover photo puts the band out in the woods, the model for MOPDTK's new Forty Fort; drummer-led group is a study in contrasts, with Tommy Flanagan's erudite piano, Henry Grimes' arco bass, and Roland Kirk irresistibly rotating various sax-like instruments. A-

The Jeff Healey Band: See the Light (1988 [1995], Arista): Blind Canadian guitarist-singer, plays holding the guitar flat on his lap, a knack he works for a bit of edge in an otherwise straightforward blues context; first album, sold a lot of records, wrote a few tunes and leaned on John Hiatt and ZZ Top for others; weak vocals, strong guitar runs. B+(*)

Kleenex/Liliput: Live Recordings, TV-Clips & Roadmovie (1979-83 [2010], Kill Rock Stars, CD+DVD): Female punk band from Switzerland, formed in 1978 as Kleenex, cutting some singles and an EP before Kimberly-Clark got pissed and cried trademark infringement. They regrouped as Liliput (or as they prefer: LiLiPUT) and cut two albums in 1982-83, mostly overlooked, until 1993 when they wrapped it all up onto two landmark CDs, or 2001 when an American label picked them up and gave them some distribution. This answers the question of whether there's anything more to be had: the answer is not much. The CD has two live sets: Kleenex in 1979 was crude and the sound was crummy; Liliput in 1983 fared better, but it's mostly redundant to the studio recordings. The DVD is reportedly fun, but I can't say. B+(*)

Quiet Sun: Mainstream (1975 [2004], Expression): One-shot group featuring Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera, a pianist named Dave Jarrett, and Brian Eno lurking obliquely in the background; sort of a Soft Machine groove, which the one vocal at the end breaks up awkwardly yet finally transcends. B+(*)

Francis Albert Sinatra/Antonio Carlos Jobim: The Complete Reprise Recordings (1967 [2010], Concord): Sinatra waited to hop on the bossa nova bandwagon until it was going really slow, fitting with his newfound has-been status; his takes on "Dindi" and "The Girl From Ipanema" are especially pained, and the strings seem to be permanently wired into his hearing aid; the outtakes favor his usual material, which Jobim loosens up graciously. B-

Jazz Prospecting

The following were written during this period for Jazz Prospecting:

Geri Allen: Flying Toward the Sound (2008 [2010], Motéma Music): Established major league pianist, 20 or so albums since 1984, started well out of the box but become more mainstream and developed an affection for Mary Lou Williams. I thought 2004's The Life of a Song was a superb piano trio record, but dudded the gospel-drugged follow-up, Timeless Portraits and Dreams. Got a terse "thanks for the Geri dud" from the publicist, who then dropped me from his list, then I didn't get this on a new label that usually sends me their stuff. Guess that's show business. In any case, this is solo piano, not normally my cup of tea. Starts out fluffy and ornate, but gradually deconstructs to series of rhythmic patterns, then starts to put things together. B+(*)

Svend Asmussen: Makin' Whoopee! . . . and Music! (2009, Arbors): Danish violinist, b. 1916, modeled his style on Joe Venuti, emerging before WWII. Evidently cut this shortly before his 93rd birthday, with Richard Drexler on piano and organ, Jacob Fischer on guitar, Tony Martin on drums, and Tom Carabasi with his name on the cover for reasons I've yet to discern. Not a lot of whoopee here: the title track and others like "Singin' in the Rain" and "Nuages" and "Danny Boy" and "Just a Gigolo" are taken at a measured pace with sly elegance. Someone I've long meant to track down, but this looks to be just a pleasant footnote. I have his Shanachie DVD, The Extraordinary Life and Music of a Jazz Legend -- need to play that some day. B

Peter Bernstein Quartet: Live at Smalls (2008 [2010], Smalls Live): Guitarist, eighth album since 1992, first I've heard but I've heard him on a lot of other people's albums, where he routinely stands out. Jim Hall protege, although I usually think of him as a Montgomery camp follower, especially when he works blues lines. Richard Wyands plays piano, John Webber bass, and Jimmy Cobb gets big type on the cover for drums. Wyands is a complementary player, and in a long live set gets some space. Cobb, of course, goes back far enough to recall when this kind of mainstream was new. Reportedly, there's a lot of live tapes in the Smalls archive, and this is one of the first six. Sound isn't great, but it gives you a good sense of how Bernstein works. B+(**)

Dee Dee Bridgewater: Eleanora Fagan (1915-1959) (2009 [2010], Emarcy): Denise Eileen Garrett, b. 1950, picked up her stage name when married to trumpeter Cecil Bridgewater in the early 1970s. Eleanora Fagan (or Elinore Harris) changed her name to Billie Holiday, claiming Clarence Holiday (a musician in Fletcher Henderson's band) as her father. Bridgewater has been working songbooks since the mid-1990s, with Horace Silver a high point (Love and Peace), Kurt Weill a low (This Is New), and Dear Ella already checked off the list, so a swing at Holiday seems inevitable. She's uncertain how she wants to play this, mimicking Holiday on slower pieces like "You've Changed" and blasting away on the fast ones. With Edsel Gomez on piano and arranging, Christian McBride on bass, the always impeccable Lewis Nash on drums, and James Carter on reeds and flute -- more interesting though less imposing than on his own misbegotten Holiday album. B+(*)

Paul Dunmall/Chris Corsano: Identical Sunsets (2010, ESP-Disk): Dunmall's bagpipes, played solo on the first cut, are the most hideous sound in all of jazz. He digs a deep hole there, although I suppose you could give him points for novelty. Dunmall's tenor sax is something else: fiercely engaged, sometimes brilliant, always noisy. Corsano is a drummer I had forgotten about -- has one album under his own name, unheard by me, and a few side credits, including a Nels Cline-Wally Shoup dud from 2005 where the noise got the best of the music. He digs in hard here, apparently a fair match for an effort that sinks or swims on Dunmall. B+(*)

Stanton Moore: Groove Alchemy (2010, Telarc): I asked for this, and was promised a copy, but it never came. Drummer, b. 1972, fifth album since 1998, basically a guy whose rhythmic sense runs from funk to post-disco. This one's just an organ trio, with Robert Walter on the Hammond and Will Bernard on guitar. I don't really understand why this formula still finds enthusiasts, but Walter is a hot shot on the instrument and leans toward boogie woogie when he switches off to piano, and Bernard is fascinated with Grant Green grooves. B+(*)

The New York Allstars: Count Basie Remembered, Vol. 2 (1996 [1998], Nagel Heyer): Sometimes with Rhapsody you get faked out, with what looks at first to be a new record -- title "Swingin' the Blues", release date 2009, label Nagel Heyer -- only to find no collaboration elsewhere. The new artwork is what did it, but the songs and lineup match this oldie: Randy Sandke, Dan Barrett, Brian Ogilvie, Billy Mitchell, Mark Shane, James Chirillo, Bob Haggart, Joe Ascione. I've heard Vol. 1 and wasn't much impressed by it, but this grabbed me right away, at least enough that I didn't feel like ejecting it. File under Sandke. B+(**)

Nicki Parrott/Rossano Sportiello: Do It Again (2009, Arbors): Did it the first time on People Will Say We're in Love, an HM in 2007. She's a bassist from Australia; sings a little, rather limited range, but I find her utterly charming. Italian pianist, has a solo on Arbors and shows up here and there. He can swing, but he can't budge Schumann, a dull spot here; he also can't sing, as his duet on "Two Sleepy People" proves. Didn't count the vocals, but half is close. The instrumentals are a bit underpowered, and the song selection rather scattered. Still, this has its charms. B+(*)

John Pizzarelli: Rockin' in Rhythm: A Tribute to Duke Ellington (2010, Telarc): Mostly vocal pieces -- "Just Squeeze Me" is an exception with the Pizzarelli guitar trimmed down to an intimate level. (Of course, I can't swear that the Pizzarelli isn't Bucky.) He's always been a slight vocalist, with tomes on Cole and Sinatra inevitably coming up pale, but Ellington's own choice of vocalists was so checkered Pizzarelli would have sat in handsomely. The songs are indelible -- even the Kurt Elling-aided vocalese intro to "Perdido" has charm -- and the band is often impressive, ranging from Aaron Weinstein's fiddle to Harry Allen's magesterial tenor sax. B+(**)

Christian Scott: Yesterday You Said Tomorrow (2009 [2010], Concord): New Orleans trumpeter, Donald Harrison's nephew, studied at Berklee, cut a record for Concord at age 22, is back for his fourth here. Got name checked on HBO's Treme, on a list of New Orleans trumpets who succeeded elsewhere by not playing New Orleans music -- Marsalis and Blanchard headed that list. Scott has his fans, but I'm not yet one of them. This one sounds like he's been studying the Miles Davis mute, which is OK as far as it goes, but he really needs a band he can play off of, and none of these guys impress me. B

Trombone Shorty: Backatown (2010, Verve Forecast): Aka Troy Andrews, Treme legend, reportedly had a club named for him at age eight, when his moniker was no doubt cuter. Still young at 24 for a major label debut after a handful of local releases going back to 2002. Tries to do something new here, but comes up with a lot of bad ideas, tricking up the usual horn line with synth beats, bringing in guest vocalists Marc Broussard and Lenny Kravitz, and trying to sing himself. C+

Warren Vaché-Tony Coe-Alan Barnes Septet: Shine (1997 [1998], Zephyr): Looking for a new Vaché record -- Top Shelf, with John Allred, on Arbors -- I stumbled instead on a batch of old ones, and couldn't resist interrupting what I was doing to play this one. Coe and Barnes are trad-leaning British reed players -- Coe tenor and soprano, Barnes baritone and alto, both clarinet -- and Vaché plays cornet. Title cut starts with just the three horns winding sinuously around each other, before the band chimes in. The sax work is often elegant, and Vaché is sharp, but not everything comes together. Title cut gets a second take to end on a high. B+(***)

Phil Woods/Lee Konitz 5Tet: Play Woods (2003 [2004], Philology): Another record where Rhapsody's 2010 date threw me, but it's a record I've been wanting to hear -- one of a batch of joint Woods-Konitz records from the 2003 Umbria Jazz Festival, along with Play Konitz and Play Rava and others. Philology is an Italian label which released so much by Woods one wonders if there isn't some sort of connection. The quintet is rounded out by Andrea Pozza on piano, Massimo Moriconi on bass, and Massimo Manzi on drums, but the interest is in the great alto saxists. B+(***)

Phil Woods/Lee Konitz 5Tet: Play Konitz (2003 [2004], Philology): Woods started as an orthodox bebopper and eventually turned backwards, offering tributes to Benny Carter and Johnny Hodges on the Play Woods set. Konitz was also deeply influenced by Charlie Parker, but never looked back -- at least any further than his own "Subconscious-Lee" which kicked his career off 60 years ago and gets a reprise here. As good as the Play Woods set but in different ways: this is tougher and more idiosyncratic, more into how the horns diverge than into their glorious union. Barbara Cassini sings two Jobim tunes at the end. B+(***)