|Ya Missed Me - Vol. 1|
|Music Disc Reviews Audio CD|
|Written by Charles Andrews|
|Thursday, 01 May 2008|
Here in the music section of AVRev.com we try to cover a wide variety of styles. It’s possible we haven’t missed a single genre, even in just the three years I’ve been Music Editor. Personally, I’ve reviewed rock, rap, reggae, Hasidic reggae, country reggae, Celtic reggae, Celtic, classical, blues, bluegrass, jazz, hip hop, Christian pop, Satanic thrash, sacred steel, Japanese steel drum lounge, Vegas lounge, speed metal, country, soul, soul country, Nigerian drum, prog-rock, Cajun, Cambodian ‘60s psychedelic rock – you know, the usual. We’ve gone out of our way to locate and evaluate hi-res recordings, digital downloads, music DVDs and other goodies of particular interest to our readers.
But with only 7-10 reviews per issue, there’s a lot of interesting music that never made it to the electronic page. So this “Ya Missed It” review column will right a few omissions. Mostly we’ll alert you to some good and/or interesting stuff, but sometimes get that dig in that’s been gnawing to go public.
Got your own faves that we’ve missed that you think AVRev readers should know about? Enlighten us, and the world, on our AVRevForum.com .
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People Gonna Talk – James Hunter (Go/Rounder, 2006)
Just another 20-year overnight success. Now 46, Hunter has been recording and performing in England for more than two decades, but until this first Stateside release (which garnered a Grammy nomination) things were looking pretty bleak, even though Van Morrison was big among his U.K. fans and took him on tour and used him on his albums – a few notes into People Gonna Talk and you’ll know why.
The man’s an anomaly, a musical sensibility lost in time. That time would be the ‘50s and ‘60s, the place, American soul and R&B. The voice is Sam Cooke and Jackie Wilson, the guitar is spare and tasty (and not used nearly enough on People), and the songs, amazingly, sounding like old chestnuts, are all his compositions. I saw him at the Austin City Limits music festival last fall and he was easy-going, charming and anxious to stay on stage past his allotted time, another white Brit absolutely confident and comfortable in his black American musical heritage (like Joss Stone, also at ACL). To listen to James Hunter is to live for the moment a style and era so classy and classic you can’t help but ask yourself why so few are playing this kind of music any more. Maybe because it takes real musicianship.
You’ll be quietly converted to his fan club on your first listen, but People is not perfect. Besides the horns subbing inadequately for Hunter’s guitar work, there’s a sameness to it all that makes you think an EP would’ve been a better idea. The arrangements are so open and minimal they’re actually fallow. Just a bit of an edge is lacking, and would fix things nicely. Also, it’s a little overdone on the cha-cha-cha rhythms (even though Sam Cooke favored them too).
He’s due for a new album this summer, and promises to address these same points. Could be a breakthrough.
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Grand National – John Butler Trio (Atlantic, 2007)
John Butler is a musical force of nature, sadly still flying under the radar of most music meteorologists. I think it’s because he doesn’t write hit songs. He writes some great songs, then plays the Living Shit out of them (check “Gov Did Nothin’,” also an example of his social conscience). If you ever get the chance to see him live, run don’t walk. He’ll be the blond dreadlocked cat playing an 11-stringed guitar like it was a rock orchestra, and he won’t be hard to spot because there won’t be many bodies on stage – he makes all this beautiful noise with only a trio. Don’t be surprised if you find it hard to get close to the stage. He may not be going platinum here (though he does at home in Australia), but his fans are v-e-r-y enthusiastic.
All the general superlatives of my review of his last album still apply to Grand National, though this one’s a little more out there and takes a little longer to get close to. His initial EP, ‘04’s What You Want, is the knockout gem you really want to get your hands on.
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Masked and Anonymous (soundtrack) – various artists (Columbia/Sony, 2003)
This soundtrack’s as weird and random as the movie, with some of the strangest representations of the Dylan catalogue you’ll ever find, a turn-off for some and a must-have for others.
Like the film, it opens up with a disorienting smack to the cerebellum, in the form of a preacher’s rant, followed by “My Back Pages” by the Magokoro Brothers … in Japanese. Fairly normal renditions (with accent) come from Swedish shrinking violet Sophie Zelmani talk-singing “Most of the Time” and Turk Sertab Erener singing “One More Cup of Coffee” (both in English), Los Lobos split English and Spanish in “On a Night Like This” (not so unusual for them), and Italian pop-folker Francesco de Gregori delivers a fairly straight-forward, guitar and Italian-style mandolin-accompanied “Non Dirle Che Non E’Cosi” (“If You See Her, Say Hello”). But countrymen Articolo 3I really mix it up on “Come Una Pietra Scalciata” (“Like a Rolling Stone”), starting with a scratching Dylan voice sample leading into the original’s familiar guitar-piano chords, which continue as stop-start backdrop to the verses rapped in Italian (lots more syllables to fit in, it turns out) with the choruses featuring the original Dylan vocal with enthusiastic Italian-language
responses. Pretty cool, really.
The Dead contribute their “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” and Jerry Garcia “Señor (Tales of Yankee Power),” with gospel legends Shirley Caesar doing heavenly justice to “Gotta Serve Somebody” and the Dixie Hummingbirds closing the disc with “City of Gold” (neither included in the film). Dylan himself performs four songs, out of the 20 they recorded in one day on a nearby sound stage immediately after the film (shot in 20 days!) wrapped – standards “Diamond Joe” and “Dixie” and new versions of his own “Down in the Flood” and “Cold Irons Bound” – with varying vocal and instrumental success.
The movie’s a bit of work to wade through, but fun, with appearances by a host of top actors who were willing to work for scale to do a film with Mr. D (John Goodman, Ed Harris, Mickey Rourke, Angela Bassett, Jeff Bridges, Christian Slater, Giovanni Ribisi, Penelope Cruz, Bruce Dern, Luke Wilson, Val Kilmer, Jessica Lange, Cheech Marin, Chris Penn, Fred Ward), and tons of musical references thrown in for the truly hip.
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Throw Down Your Arms – Sinead O’Connor (That’s Why There’s Chocolate and Vanilla, 2005)
God bless her, I hate saying anything bad about Sinead, even though she’s made a career out of making that easy. My having come by a pretty good notion over the years of her spiritual leanings, I’m sure she’s completely sincere in the liner notes to this project when she writes “thanks first and foremost to the great men who wrote and performed these songs and whose inspiration has kept me nourished with strength at times when I might otherwise have lost faith in myself … part of a battle fought for self esteem and the freeing of God from religion … my heroes, my teachers, my masters, my priests, my prophets, my guides and my godfathers … the truth and rights they benevolently taught through music raised God from the dead in the soul of a little Irish Catholic woman … all I can hope (is to) carry the message of Rastafari to some who might otherwise not know that God and religion are two very different things, and that God is alive in and around all of us.”
In honoring and exploring her deepest spiritual leanings, she recorded at the reggae Mecca Tuff Gong studios in Kingston with Roland McDermott, Bulby York and Delroy Pottinger (“working with you all was the most incredible experience I ever had in music”), and with an impressive array of some of the best players in Jamaica: Sly & Robbie, Mikey Chung, Dean Fraser, Dalton and Glen Brownie, Robbie Lyn, Sticky Thompson. She recorded songs written by Burning Spear, Fully Fullwood, Clements Dodd, Linford Manning, Lee Scratch Perry, Carleton Barrett, Peter Tosh. She made note of a pledge to donate 10% of the profits to the care of the Rasta elders in Jamaica.
So how can I knock such an effort? Because it’s not my job to deal with intentions, just results, and this is a mediocre reggae album, at best. Better than Willie Nelson’s dreadful Countryman , but more evidence that maybe, just maybe … while we know that white men can sing the blues, maybe you have to be Jamaican (or at least from the neighborhood, like Belize) to make, or at least sing, a really good reggae album. I know, I know, that notion doesn’t make any sense, and makes me sound like some kind of racist, but there’s plenty of evidence to support it and not much to deny it.
Even such powerhouse songs as Tosh’s “Sinner Man” adaptation “Downpressor Man” and Bob Marley’s moving Haile Sellasie paean “War” seem bereft of soul. Oddly, the two cuts here that work best are the opening one, Burning Spear’s “Jah Nuh Dread,” which features only an oh-so-lightly strummed guitar way, way in the background behind her almost-a cappella singing, and the fun “Curly Locks,” which she transforms with a whispered vocal, again with a light musical backdrop featuring some tasty horn punctuations. The basic problem with the rest of it is the music. The undeniably skilled playing is mysteriously devoid of any bite, any grit, any character. This is reaching to make a point, but it’s almost like well-played reggae muzak.
Were these veteran monster players afraid to hurt the little Irish Catholic woman? Did she signal that this is what she wanted? Is there a conspiracy in JA-land to never give to an outsider what is musically granted to a native? Ya gotta be in the club? Who knows? I give O’Connor props for the concept and the effort, but I wonder if she doesn’t play this back now, a few years later, and realize she got short-changed?
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and finally, as concisely submitted by our own Long Beach legend K L Poore, comes this irrefutable analysis of the latest Van Morrison album (his 33rd): Keep It Simple - Van Morrison (Exile/Lost Highway, 2008)