Rhapsody Streamnotes: April 9, 2010

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 March 10. Past reviews and more information are available here.

The Soft Pack (2010, Kemado): The group formerly known as the Muslims, which seems about as inacurrately useless a name as the Girls. Second album, ten songs, none long, with crunchy guitar riffs -- sounds just like an alt-rock group should, with diction clear enough that their words reward your interest -- not that, oh, "Pull Out" was ever in very deep. Had a terrible time with Rhapsody, but finally got a clean play. A-

This Moment in Black History: Public Square (2009, Smog Veil): Punk band from Cleveland, hardcore actually, even smack of metal but harder and faster and catchier. Fourth album, second I've heard. I still prefer the other one, probably because it's easier to decipher the attitude. Hint: title is It Takes a Nation of Assholes to Hold Us Back. B+(**)

Drive-By Truckers: The Big To-Do (2010, ATO): As dense as the smartest Southern rock band ever plays, it can be hard to tune into the details. I wouldn't bet against them finally putting the album over, but after three plays, I'm still not sold -- except for "This Fucking Job" and a slow one near the end. Still, density can be its own reward, and this has plenty of that. Hope to get a chance to listen further. B+(***)

The White Stripes: Under Great White Northern Lights (2010, Warner Brothers): Live albums have always been for fans, except when they exist merely to rip off fans. I've never been a Jack White fan. None of the few albums I'm down in print as liking actually stuck in my rotation long enough for me to recognize the songs -- the only one I can readily ID here is "Jolene." Actually, I don't recognize this loud, trashy band at all. Never realized they ripped so many Black Sabbath riffs. Never realized they sounded so much like Foghat. I'm not unimpressed with the guitarist. Can't say as I like the vocalist much. B

The White Stripes: De Stijl (2000, Sympathy for the Record Industry): The only White Stripes album I'd managed to miss, just sitting there on the screen, so thought I'd give it a click. The sound basically matches the live album: a bit simpler, less intense, less showy too, but similar talents, comparable nuissances. Two blues covers for old-time sake, one from Son House that tries to be hoary, one from Blind Willie McTell that aims for sly. Latter is better. B

The Chieftains/Ry Cooder: San Patricio (2010, Hear Music): Irish folk band, been around since the early 1970s. I used to have a bunch of their early numbered albums on Island, but never wrote down any notes to help me sort them, and they're long gone by now. As they gained fame, they started playing around, teaming up with anyone who would have them, kind of like John Lee Hooker, but Hook always floated to the top while the Chieftains sunk to the bottom. Cooder is another promiscuous collaborator. He probably came up with the idea of doing a Mexican folk album, as well as some musicians and singers who could hack it. Good enough as long as they stick to the plan, although you can't help but suspect that the Mexicans could do better without the outside help. And every now and then the outside help reverts to type. B

Pantha du Prince: Black Noise (2010, Rough Trade): German techno producer Hendrik Weber, for the most part works gentle grooves with percussion sounding much like marimba poking through the synthetic ambience. I would like it better if not for the cut(s) with vocals, reportedly the work of Panda Bear/Animal Collective Noah Lennox. B+(*)

Massive Attack: Heligoland (2010, Virgin): Trip-hop, the sad clown face on the cover beneath the monotone rainbow is a giveaway, although it's never as dreary as Portishead nor as perverse as Tricky. B

Love Is All: Two Thousand and Ten Injuries (2010, Polyvinyl): Swedish rock band, fronted by singer Josephine Olausson, who feels like the auteur because she's got plenty to say. Not that I can quite follow it all, but life doesn't come easy -- unlike the melodies. The sound has evolved to include a shimmering klang around songs like "Never Now" -- a plus when it works but also a step from punk to new wave. Not sure this couldn't grow on me, but I checked out the first album before settling, and it wasted no time. B+(***)

Love Is All: Nine Times That Same Song (2006, What's Your Rupture?): Sharper formally than the new third album, even if it doesn't keep a straight line and has way too many changes for punk revivalists. Most likely a minor group, but the first two albums break through often enough, and the third has something new going on. A-

Dan Reeder: Dan Reeder (2004, Oh Boy): Folk singer, b. 1954 in Louisiana, released his first album 50 years later. Found an announcement of his third album, This New Century, in my email and thought I'd look it up. Rhapsody doesn't have it, yet anyway, but has the first two, so why not? On John Prine's label, should get by on his wit, and starts off well enough, making a feeble comparison to Van Morrison. Alas, doesn't have much of a voice, which is strangely muddied by multitracking his harmony -- everything seems to be choral, which is rather peculiar in a folksinger. Could be deeper too, unless you think "Food and Pussy" counts. B-

Eddy Current Suppression Ring: Primary Colours (2007 [2008], Goner): Australian group, punkish, probably closer in spirit and ethos to the 1960s pop-punks than to the 1970s protest-punks, although that may just be the keyboard. Group has a new album out, their third, but I thought I'd start to catch up here, their second. Glad I did: tight songs, simple, relatively clear. A-

Eddy Current Suppression Ring: Rush to Relax (2009 [2010], Goner): More is a bit less, as their skills pick up with practice, their ideas thin out a bit on the road, and the ending title track runs up 24 minutes of surf, not the same thing as surf music. Still a first-rate post-punk group. B+(**)

Allison Moorer: Crows (2010, Rykodisc): Country singer, Shelby Lynne's sister, married to Steve Earle, eighth album since 1998. Always assumed she was more or less neotrad, which you'd expect when she was on MCA and Sugar Hill. First album on non-trad Rykodisc has little country feel: mostly teary ballads, pitched high, sort of stuff that I instinctively tune out, although in the end doesn't seem too bad. B

Gretchen Wilson: I Got Your Country Right Here (2010, Redneck): I doubt if her embrace of right-wing jingoism is any more heartfelt than her embrace of whiskey. But whiskey was more fun. Without it the belting delivery and bigger and richer production start to grind you down. B-

Alan Jackson: Freight Train (2010, Arista): Title song on Jackson's 16th album is from Fred Eaglesmith, which is why it mostly just sounds familiar to me, but if you haven't heard it before it will blow you away. Jackson may do it better, but it's not really his kind of song -- he's hard to beat on the soft love songs, at least unless they're too full of shit. He's got a couple of each here, as well as a self-penned nod to the working man, which could use less of God's blessings and a little more class consciousness. B+(**)

MC Paul Barman: Thought Balloon Mushroom Cloud (2010, Househusband): Whiny voice, nerdy allure, rapper gets by on brains and wit when he gets by at all, not that the beats do him any disservice. Cut an album in 2002 that was pretty great, back when he had Prince Paul for context and cred. This almost works too, but is harder to latch onto in general, and the one about circumcision turned me off both plays -- not so much the posture as the line about kidnapping the baby to save him from such a dire fate. Then again the whole thing could be as ironic as the one about the AIDS Diet, but I doubt it. B+(***)

The Bundles (2009, K): Antifolk supergroup, with Jeffrey Lewis and Kimya Dawson and some others trading barbs and bloopers over minimal guitar thrash. Hopes for a Have Moicy! are unfounded: not as distinctive as either principal's solo albums, and not as surprising as The Moldy Peaches, but something new and unpredicted. B+(***)

Carolina Chocolate Drops: Genuine Negro Jig (2009 [2010], Nonesuch): Jug band, the trio traps straight back to the 1920s when black and white folk music were hard to distinguish, except perhaps by the added confection of blackface that is memorialized in this group's name. Somewhat surprising that the shtick is so rare given how authoritatively the sound reverberates even today. Their previous album was all trad tunes. This is about half, with covers hitting and missing. B+(***)

David Byrne/Fatboy Slim: Here Lies Love (2010, Nonesuch, 2CD): This much is weird: a concept album about Imelda Marcos and her nanny, which is probably safer than writing about her husband, the general-dictator whom James Hamilton-Paterson wrote the biography America's Boy about. Byrne cites Hamilton-Paterson and also Robert D. Kaplan's Imperial Grunts waxing on the War on Terrorism's struggle to secure the frontier by subduing "Injun Country." The songs, on the other hand, go on and on about love, they're sun by a plethora of (mostly) female voices, and they're set to perennially sunny beats -- nothing weird about that. Still, the only one I paid much attention to was voiced by Byrne himself, titled "American Troglodyte." B+(*)

Madonna: The Sticky and Sweet Tour (2008 [2010], Warner Brothers): Third live tour album since 2006, each with a DVD -- I normally disapprove, but the one I've seen, on I'm Going to Tell You a Secret, is actually worth watching; better, I'd say, than Truth or Dare, which was released through the theatres -- during a stretch which otherwise has seen one studio album and one best-of. Can't vouch for this DVD, but the CD is a nonstop blast, mostly built out of medleys with "2008" versions of "Vogue" and "Music" and "Like a Prayer" and one song "feat. Kanye West." B+(***)

Madonna: The Confessions Tour (2007, Warner Brothers): London concert, following release of Confessions on a Dance Floor, a pretty good record albeit one I don't know well enough to follow here. Mixes Donna Summer's "I Feel Love" in with "Future Lovers" to start, then does "Like a Virgin" like all the others except louder. "I Love New York" may seem out of place until she disses G.W. Bush. But more than anything else I'm struck by how hard this rocks, and how gnarly the guitar can get. I also have to admit I love how the live arena sounds resonate within the mix -- that's true of all of her live albums. Bigger than life. Wouldn't be surprised if the DVD isn't even better. A-

Lil Wayne: Rebirth (2010, Universal Motown/Cash Money): I clearly don't have whatever it takes to track down much less sort out Dwayne Carter's dozens of mixtapes -- I bought The Drought Is Over 2 and Da Drought 3 a couple years ago, packed them for a car trip, and never got through them. This one, released as Carter is starting his Rikers Island sabbatical, is billed as rock-rap. Fairly jumpy at first, with some guitar thrash, not quite heavy metal, nor ultimately much of anything else. I suspect the bad reviews of piling on, but this does feel like a rush job, not that committed and after a while not that interesting. Then again he's a tough dude to get into. B-

Dr. Dooom: Dr. Dooom, Vol. 2 (2008, Treshold): Kool Keith alias, previously used in a 1999 album called First Come, First Served, no relation to MF Doom aka Doom, but the concept is similar. Didn't follow it all that well, except for a bit about the late Dr. Octagon, another Kool Keith alias. B+(**)

Ludacris: Battle of the Sexes (2010, Disturbing Tha Peace): Evidently this was conceived as a duo album with Shawnna returning Cris's barbs, boasts, and bullshit, but she's only there on occasion, not enough counterweight. Raucous beats, riotous porn, more stamina than I can imagine. At some point I start to wonder if it's really worth all this trouble. B

Felt: 3: A Tribute to Rosie Perez (2009, Rhymesayers Entertainment): Side project for Slug (Sean Daley, of Atmosphere) and Murs (Nick Carter), produced by Aesop Rock. Evidently there are two previous records, A Tribute to Christina Ricci and A Tribute to Lisa Bonet, with A Tribute to Heidi Fleiss forthcoming. Not sure that this has anything to do with its subject. Actually, I don't know what any of it is about -- just have a hard time following hip-hop in one take on Rhapsody, but that's partly because the sound itself is so satisfactory, and partly because the word snippets I do get are clever and smart. B+(**)

Souls of Mischief: Montezuma's Revenge (2009, Clear Label): Oakland rappers, or poets as some put it, working over Prince Paul beats, starting with a live intro. They had a good record in 1993, '93 'til Infinity, and I haven't thought of them since, although they've had a couple of albums. Looser and smoother than the other rap records I've heard lately -- Felt, Ludacris, Lil Wayne, even Dr. Dooom; so much so it reminds me of the Jungle Brothers. B+(***)

DJ /rupture & Matt Shadetek: Solar Life Raft (2009, The Agriculture): Rupture (Jace Clayton) in a turntablist with several records I've heard thus far, starting with Gold Teeth Thief in 2001. Don't know squat about Shadetek. This I take to be a mix tape with about half of the material attributed to the auteurs. Scattered stuff, something about Philadelphia, a propensity for reggae, not much shape. B+(*)


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

  • David Bazan: Curse Your Branches (Barsuk)
  • The Da Vincis: See You Tonight (Olympic)
  • Ricardo Lemvo and Makina Loca: Isabela (Mopiato Music)
  • Ricardo Lemvo and Makina Loca: Retrospectiva (Mopiato Music)
  • Joanna Newsom: Have One on Me (Drag City, 2CD)
  • Dan Reeder: This New Century (Oh Boy)
  • The Willowz: Everyone (Downtown Music)

Recycled Goods

The following were written during this period for Recycled Goods:

Johnny Cash: American VI: Ain't No Grave (2002-03 [2010], Lost Highway): The sixth and reportedly the last offering from Rick Rubin's sessions that started in 1994 with the idea of throwing all manner of pop songs up against Cash's amazing voice. Kind of like batting practice, where Cash aimed for the fences, but just as often fouled one off. At ten songs running 32:18 this is surely the end, not least because Cash's voice has faded into such a soft murmur they wound up putting a child picture on the cover. In a lesser singer, or maybe just a living one, it would be easily dismissed, but there are a couple songs you'll want to hear -- "Cool Water" and "Aloha Oe" -- and a couple you should hear -- "Can't Help but Wonder Where I'm Bound" and "Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream." B+(**)

Elvis Presley: Elvis (1956 [2005], RCA): Second major league LP for RCA, discounting a minor league season at Sun that was if anything more impressive, and supplemented by bonus tracks -- singles like "Hound Dog," "Don't Be Cruel," and "Love Me Tender" that he's more remembered for than the Little Richard covers on the album; still, his throwaways are often worth keeping, since nowadays it takes a song like "Old Shep" to remind you how special he could be. A-

Elvis Presley: Loving You (1957 [2005], RCA): The original 12-cut LP was tied to Presley's second film, but with his movies little more than extensions of his rock persona, this holds up just fine, with a few hits like "Teddy Bear" and masterful interpretations even of songs as well done as "Blueberry Hill." A-

Ravi Shankar: Three Ragas (1956 [2000], Angel): First record, an important milestone in presenting Indian music to the outside world, and in recognizing Shankar as its exemplar; long by LP standards, with the three ragas running 28/10/15 minutes each; intricate, subtle, some stretches where they seem to break into another world. A-

Ravi Shankar: India's Most Distinguished Musician in Concert (1961 [1999], Angel): Live at UCLA's Royce Hall, two long tracks broadly representative of Shankar's meticulous art. B+(**)

Ravi Shankar: Improvisations (1962 [1999], Angel): An early sit-down with some jazz musicians, including Paul Horn, Bud Shank, and Gary Peacock -- not that they make much difference, other than to dilute and distract the star. B+(*)

Ravi Shankar: India's Master Musician (1963 [1999], Angel): Recorded in London at Abbey Road, a significant step toward introducing Shankar and his music to the west; I'm beginning to suspect that non-experts will never be able to make useful distinctions in Shankar's huge catalog, but these five shorter-than-usual pieces are hard to fault, sublime even. A-

Ravi Shankar: Ragas & Talas (1964 [2000], Angel): First side is more of the same, but second side opens with Alla Rakha working a tala rhythm on tabla for five minutes, then finishes with a raga that swells up over 21 minutes into a fiery finish. B+(***)

Ravi Shankar: Portrait of Genius (1964 [1998], Angel): One side of short pieces with flutist Paul Horn only a minor distraction; the other wends its way through the 19:41 "Raga Multani" with the sitar moaning and whining what must be some form of blues, loose over Alla Rakha's tabla. B+(**)

Ravi Shankar: Sound of the Sitar (1965 [2000], Angel): Half solo, half paired with Alla Rakha's tabla, but in both cases the point is to showcase that sitar sound, its twangy string notes wrapped in luscious reverb; still, a tabla beat helps. B+(**)

Ravi Shankar: Live: At the Monterey International Pop Festival (1967 [1998], Angel): This was Shankar's popular breakthrough, putting him on the same stage with breakthrough performances by Jimi Hendrix, Otis Redding, the Who, and many others; starts out very cautiously with a long, elegant piece, followed by a short one much faster, then ending with another long one, this one burning intense -- enough so it made the movie cut. B+(**)

Ravi Shankar: In San Francisco (1967 [2001], Angel): Shankar usually recorded with Alla Rakha on tabla, but this is one of the few albums where the tabla gets out front of the sitar, or more accurately the sitar lays back, resulting in a much thinner sound. B

Ravi Shankar: In New York (1968 [2000], Angel): Practically formula, with Alla Rakha on tabla and Shyam But-Nagar on tamboura, three pieces, the short opener "Raga Bairaga" kicking up a storm, the long closer "Raga Marwa" slow and mesmerizing, with small changes that could go on forever. B+(***)

Ravi Shankar: The Sounds of India (1968 [1989], Columbia): A bit odd in that it starts with a 4-minute lecture on ragas and talas, with further explanations introducing the four pieces; not clear enough to be worth the interruption, but the music is supple and remains mysterious. B+(**)

Ravi Shankar/Yehudi Menuhin: West Meets East: The Historic Shankar/Menuhin Sessions (1967-76 [1999], Angel): Not an even contest, as the legendary classical violinist tries to adapt to Shankar's infinitely flexible grooves -- he does best when he gets a little solo space; otherwise he tends to disappear behind the broad twang of the sitar, although the final cut gets the balance right. B+(*)

Ravi Shankar/Ali Akbar Khan: Ragas (1973 [1990], Fantasy): Khan is a sarod master, almost as famous as Shankar; four 18-20 minute pieces, the sort of thing that originally took a double-LP but now squeezes into a single long CD; the two lead instruments sound similar, but tabla and tamboura help move it all along, even though no one seems to be in much of a hurry. B+(***)

Ravi Shankar: Homage to Mahatma Gandhi (1978-80 [2004], Deutsche Grammophon): Shankar wrote "Raga Mohan Kauns" just days after Gandhi's death in 1948; it opens here, developing a complex propulsion; the other two pieces are less convincing, including a long and rather static tabla solo. B+(**)

Ravi Shankar: Full Circle: Carnegie Hall 2000 (2000 [2001], Angel): At 80 still playing, surrounded by a relatively robust group with daughter Anoushka Shankar as a second sitar player, and little touches like cello to fill things out; seems like they could just be going through the motions, but by the end this fills out nicely, progressively even. B+(***)

The Units: History of the Units: The Early Years (1977-83 [2010], Community Library): San Francisco rock group, cut a couple of albums in the early 1980s, starting as a chintzy keyboard group with a Devo-ish sense of humor which never quite worked; on the other hand, the later instrumental pieces swept up in this archive are catchy in their own right. B