February 15, 2000
Medeski, Martin & Wood: Last Chance to Dance Trance (perhaps) (Gramavision)
Thirteen swinging cuts highlight this jazz/funk trios first five releases (LPs and EPs). With just Hammond Organ, bass, and drums, this
New York-based trio starts with the soul jazz of Jimmy Smith, Lonnie Liston Smith, and Shirley Scott, pumps in a bit of James Brown and The Meters, and adds a healthy dose of 90s New York underground experimentation to create a new hybrid of some classic sounds.
From the funk bounce of "Chubb Sub" to slow, fuzzed-out down-home lumber of "Night Marchers," this is a toe-tapper of a disc.
Max Romeo: Open the Iron Gate (Blood and Fire)
One of the leading lights of Jamaican music in the mid-70s, Max Romeos subtle tenor and biting social satire had fallen out of favor by the early 1980s, despite high-powered boosters like Keith Richards and Mick Jagger. Slowly, Maxie is being rediscovered and his razor-sharp commentary swathed in his charming voice is once again appreciated.
The inimitable Blood and Fire crew here resurrect the 1975 classic LP, Revelation Time initially issued in the U.S. as part of a short-lived United Artists reggae series, with a few bonus tracks tacked on. Astounding musicianship (check out the crucial "No Peace") combined with Romeos powerful material and delivery make this a must.
The Clash: From Here To Eternity (Sony)
Once again the Clash gets screwed by historically blank A&R revisonists. At a time when box sets are bombarding us like million dollar space junk smashing into Mars, why is it that the best punk band of all-time is relegated to a mere 17-track live career summarizing compilation.?
How do you widdle you way down to 17 songs as you search through the catalog of a band that once released 57 vital songs in one year alone? The party line, according to the official press release, is that the lack of available sound board quality tapes limited the decision making process. Which would be a sound excuse, if it were true. The fact of the matter is there are plenty of tapes out there.
A combination of A&R incompetence and the usual Strummer, Simonon, Jones and Headon, post-clash mortem laziness has resulted in a live album that has one, count it, one definitive performance - "Complete Control" (Bonds 1981). Anyone who has the time and effort can go out and get the bootlegs and make a better compilation. Do it now!
Loud, Fast & Out of Control: The Wild Sounds of '50s Rock (Rhino)
While I may seem argumentative about song selection on Rhino's new four-disc wild ride through 1950s rock and roll, Loud, Fast, & Out of Control: The Wild Sounds of '50s Rock, keep in mind that this is a box set of such depth and nearly flawless quality that one has the luxury of picking nits.
Having said that and having read the introductory note explaining how one top-notch song didn't make the final cut because compilers agreed it didn't rock, I'll simply state that Louis Prima, for all his gusto and joie de vivre, was not a "rock" performer and that the Everly Brothers, for all their songwriting and vocal skills, Bobby Darin, and Ricky Nelson, do not rock. At least not with the force of say, Eddie Cochrane, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Wanda Jackson, Hank Ballard & the Midnighters, Duane Eddy, Jerry Lee Lewis, Larry Williams, and Ronnie Hawkins. But with 104 tracks (most of them slammin') and an enjoyable 80-page booklet full of essays and track info, this is one of the best retro-rock sets in the shops.
Le Tigre: Le Tigre (Mr. Lady)
The first Le Tigre song I heard was at Queeruption, where the DJs spun one of these jaunty, dancey songs and everyone in the room was infected by its vibe. This new band consists of Kathleen Hanna, Sadie Benning and Johanna Fateman, and is quick, peppy, loud and in-your-face. This is definitely a record for the new year, for fun, for dancing, for playing over and over and over.
The politics are definitely there, but this is also a record about celebrating (and shouting). My favorite song, "Hot Topic," gives shoutouts to lots of artists from Joan Jett to Aretha Franklin to Sleater-Kinney and Marlon Riggs, and affirms the joys of needing art to sustain us "Stop, we won't stop/Don't you stop/I can't live if you stop," all wrapped up in one of the most catchy songs I've heard in a LONG time.
On a certain level you don't even need to listen to all the words, at least for the first few listens, you can just absorb the beats and noises and move around. Then you can re-listen and hear the anti-Guliani credo "My My Metrocard" and the fun send-off of gross guys everywhere "Dude Yr So Crazy!!"
Le Tigre also emphasize that caring about art and culture is important and does have resonance, a message often lost when these media are dismissed as "mere" entertainment - see the surprisingly catchy "What's Yr Take on Cassavetes?" for a taste of this viewpoint. Every song on Le Tigre is fun, bouncey, and begs to be cranked up in a room full of people. Get this record for your New Year's parties.
Rachel Kramer Bussel
Lauren Hoffman: From The Blue House (Free Union Records)
This second CD by Lauren Hoffman shows that she is more than a one-hit wonder, and has now expanded her repertoire in some very interesting ways.
From The Blue House features songs about families, friends and lovers sung in Hoffman's soulful voice. Hoffman, like Fiona Apple, seems wise beyond her years and it's both brave and commendable of her to test out country songs and stray from her usual rock roots. It's no wonder that she steals a line from Elliott Smith ("it's 2:45 in the morning"), twisting it into her own haunting story, as she lists Smith as one of her influences.
From The Blue House is more mature and nuanced than Megiddo, her first album, and definitely shows that Hoffman has been working hard in the intervening three years. Some of the standout songs are "Dust Off Your Dreams" and the sad yet uplifting "Song For A Boy." Hoffman's voice croons as she delves into poignant tales that mesmerize the listener. For more information, visit http://www.forlauren.com
Rachel Kramer Bussel
Faces: The Best of Faces: good boys ...when they're asleep... (Warner Archives/Rhino)
This compilation has too much boggie and flares and not enough backbeat and straight legs.
You get to hear plenty of Rod Stewart, back when he was sounding like the second coming of Sam Cooke (which in itself is a revelation to anyone who is only familiar with Stewart's Michael Bolton impersonations of the best two decades). The gems are the Ronnie Lane songs "Debris," "Glad and Sorry" and "Ooh la la." There is more soul in those three songs than the whole Stewart catalog. That shouldn't come as a surprise - Lane had the straightest pant legs in the band.
Texas: The Hush (Universal)
Glasgow, Scotland's Texas were floundering until their last record, White on Blonde, flirted with blue-eyed soul and became a multi-million-selling international smash.
The Hush, recorded in singer Sharleen Spiteri's flat, eschews guitar pop and fully embraces slick retro R&B. With a pile of top-notch tunes, The Hush works like a charm. The opener, "In Our Lifetime," is already a hit and catchy Motown-influenced numbers like "When We Are Together," "Day After Day," and "The Day Before I Went Away" are obvious follow-ups.
Juliana Hatfield: Knitting Factory, New York City, October 7
Juliana Hatfield took the stage to many cheers from her devoted fans, dressed in a black sleeveless shirt and looking thin and a bit weary, but happy. She talked about how she just got back from six months living in LA and how glad she was to be back east. Her show featured both new and familiar, as she played many older songs along with a few new ones that will be on her new album out in February. Her voice sounded very thin, and almost too quiet and sparse.
Some of the new numbers included "I Think I Might Be In Love With You," "Jesus Rides With Me," and the poignant "Choose Drugs," where she laments a lover who consistently chooses drugs over her. A lot of her songs involve her repeating the same line several times throughout the song, as if she is trying to send a message to herself and the crowd about the importance of each line.
The show reached a point of hilarity when, after Juliana said she couldn't remember "Feelin' Massachusetts," a girl at the front said she could play it on her guitar and Juliana beckoned her onstage to try her hand at the song. She played part of it while Juliana tried to sing, amidst many stops and starts and giggles, and the fan won a big round of applause for her efforts. Juliana also told her audience that "the Internet is bad" and in her rather shy way explained that she doesn't need to be on the Juliana Hatfield mailing list because she "knows everything there is to know about Juliana Hatfield." And of course, she included her hits "My Sister" and "Spin the Bottle" and closed with "Nirvana," which she played for "the guy in the front with the Verbena t-shirt." She sounded young and idealistic as she sang about liking a band that is no longer around, but she also made being young and idealistic seem like good things to be.
Rachel Kramer Bussel
Dub Narcotic Sound System Meets The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion in a Dancehall Style: Sideways Soul (K)
The Dub Narcotic Sound System and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion hit the mark on the opening song of Sideways Soul , "Banana Meltdown," producing the closest thing you will get to Booker T and the MGs in 1999, however the remainder of the album falls well short of soul, Memphis or Olympia style.
Sideways Soul is marred by lerch-like vocals that make any of the potentially groovin' rhythm tracks unlistenable. The concept is brilliant, Calvin Johnson and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, hook up for a late night recording session, however the resulting stew is stale.
Chickfactor show: Fez, New York City, September 11
This Chickfactor party was all about the pop music. There was a lighthearted mood in the air; as we entered the club we were asked if we were dazzling or fabulous so the girl at the door would know how to stamp our hands, which certainly made me smile and hinted at the rather festive atmosphere inside. Gail O'Hara handed out copies of Chickfactor #12 and the crowd prepared to be wooed with cute sweet songs.
First up was Kendall Jane Meade, also known as Mascott, who played guitar accompanied by a friend on bass. She sang a few songs off her EP Electric Poems (Le Grand Magistery), including one about going to England and finding it not all it's cracked up to be. When Kendall sings, she scrunches up her eyes and looks and sounds so earnest, it's hard not to like her, and her songs have an earthy sweetness to them that is endearing.
Then we were treated to LD Beghtol (of NYC band Flare) and friends for a mixture of songs with an array of instruments. My favorite of the set was a Shirley Simms-penned song with a country twang called "You're Just Fucked Up" - the title alone tells you it has to be a fun song. But their set ranged from silly country to more poetic loveliness, complete with some lovely cello playing. Then local band The Pacific Ocean were up, this time accompanied by a drummer, who gave them a new, harder sounds, but in a good way. They played my favorite song off their last record, "Birds Don't Think They're Flying," which I think is one of the sweetest, loveliest songs ever, and hearing it live was truly sublime.
photo by Ata Rivers
Finally, the moment I'd been eagerly waiting and my main reason for coming to the show - LOIS! Every time I've seen Lois (which, granted, has only been 3 times), she's looked completely different, the first in such a tomboy phase I thought she was a guy, the next like Parker Posey, and this time like a '40s housewife, with a simple dress and new haircut. She even shared with us her theory that the rock stars who last a long time in the spotlight don't change their hair. She played almost all new songs, which will presumably be on her new album to be released by Kill Rock Stars in March 2000, many of which were in her usual lovesick/lovestruck vain, including "Being Blind," and one called "You Love Your Wounds" about those who wallow in their addictions, which had a bit more bite to it. She did also play "A Summer Long" before relinquishing the stage to her idol, Graeme Downes, of the Verlaines. I'm sorry to say that I didn't stay for his set - it was a long night and I don't know his music really at all, but I'm sure if Lois likes it, it has to be good. Altogether, lots of fun in a cozy little club with friendly unpretentious performers who were there to just have some fun and play music. What more could a girl ask for?
Rachel Kramer Bussel
Marcia Griffiths: Truly (Heartbeak/Studio One)
Debate rages about this disc on reggae chat groups on the internet. The problem is Studio One producer Coxsone Dodd doesn't view his catalogue with the same reverence as many fans. Therefore, he overdubs onto vintage tracks, records new vocals on extremely old rhythms, etc.
This set mixes some unreleased gems from the late 1960s with new vocals over previously used rhythm tracks. The result, nonetheless, is wonderful as Griffiths, who was one of Marley''s backing singers, the I-Threes, is one of Jamaica's most prodigiously talented female singers and Coxsone's tracks (at least the old ones) remain impeccable. Don't let rabid purists spoil it for you.
Gomez: Bring it On (Virgin)
If imitation is truly the sincerest form of flattery, Dr. John ought to be more than a little honored by the American debut by Britain's current hotshots, Gomez, whose second set, Liquid Skin, is slated for a September release.
These 20-somethings have discovered American roots music in a big way and, much like dozens before them, are now selling it back to us. Decent songs are performed with verve and sincerity, but never is the question addressed, "couldn't I be listening to the good doctor himself?" The answer, of course, is yes.
The Crabs: Sand and Sea (K)
On my third listen to the new Crabs CD, Sand and Sea, I turned to a friend and said, "I figured it out! This CD makes me think of roller skating!" The cue was the organ that is present in every song. It brought back memories of skating around a rink in the 80's. This CD is like that - fun and free. It's what would be playing at an indie-rock roller rink!
The lyrics are sweetly sad, though, with lines like "she tried to cash the check, but her heart's already spent" and "to have to hold, everyone is growing old" sneaking up on you as you move your feet to the sweet pop. The tracks where Jonn sings take some getting used to - he has that indie-pop-boy off key voice that seems to be popular these days. But the songs that Lisa sings are lovely. Sarah's backup vocals are a little harsh at times, but her organ playing is what brings this album together and what makes it stand out from other pop bands. Without the organ, this album might be ordinary. With it, its a trip worth taking around the rink.
Marla Feuerstein ("marla tiara")
Luscious Jackson/Cibo Matto: August 4, Avalon, Boston
I got to this show moderately early because I wanted to be sure I would get to see Cibo Matto. It was nice to finally have an opening band that I wanted to see almost as much as the main act. I met up with a friend of mine, bought a $7.50 rum and Coke (after being utterly ignored by the bartender - sorry, I forgot to dress in my tightest clothing that night), and we settled into a nice spot next to the sound guy.
The show started shockingly promptly with Cibo Matto walking onto the stage. I don't own any of their albums, and my knowledge of their songs is mainly the screamed refrain "Know Your Chicken!" so I can't provide a very accurate setlist. I noticed, however, that their set was clearly divided between two distinct styles, and it seemed that that reflected the difference between the first and second album.
Newer songs from the second album, Stereotype A, were loungey, almost Stereolab-like, with the occasional rap-like segment thrown in. Songs from the first album, Viva La Woman, were less melodic, with more screaming and unusual rhythms, like the song "Birthday Cake" which features a mother-character very emphatically discussing the cake she's baking for her son. I craned my neck to see Sean Lennon, but he mainly stood still, stared down, and played his bass. The two lead girls also didn't really get into the show until about halfway through, although they did address the audience a bit. The set ended abruptly, with no encore, even though the audience seemed to want one.
Luscious Jackson took the stage at precisely 10:15 without a rock star fake-late-start and with little bravado. They jumped right in with "Pele Merengue," off of Natural Ingredients. This song is intense and fast, and got the audience into the mood immediately. The third song was "Bam Bam," a rare treat from the first EP, In Search of Manny. Although I was secretly hoping to hear "Life of Leisure," I was still glad they delved into the past at all - too many bands ignore their roots in favor of their newest material. "Bam Bam" is also a crowd pleaser, featuring lots of audience participation in the form of a call and response segment that didn't seem forced.
The audience happily screamed when told to. The show featured songs from all three full length albums and the aforementioned EP. I was extremely happy to hear "Deep Shag," one of my favorite songs. But while that song translated well live, "Why Do I Lie," from Fever In, Fever Out, suffered from a lack of energy as well as the poor acoustics of the venue. In a cute twist, Cibo Matto bounded out during "City Song" and pogoed wildly around the stage, showing more enthusiasm than they had in their entire set. The lyrics of the song were changed to "Hey Cibo Mattowhat's your name" and the stage resembled a giant party.
A low point of Luscious Jackson's set was the DJ, who insisted on filling slow moments (usually when the band was changing places or instruments) with inane clips from 80's tunes. I suppose it is supposed to be innovative to play Hall and Oates during an 'alternative' show, but I felt it disrupted the flow, and confused the audience. Is the band going to cover that song? I wondered. No, its just a bridge. Without context. I would much rather have had the band speak to the audience during the down time. I wondered if anything would be missing without Vivian, the keyboardist who left the group to "pursue other projects." But her place was easily filled by another keyboardist (or during one segment, Gabby), as well as other musicians who rounded out the group.
Although I missed seeing just the four original members together, the band still felt like a single unit. At one point, everyone changed places and instruments, and one of the backup musicians stepped out to rap with Jill. It was nice to see the change flow smoothly, and it added to the fun of the evening. Overall, it was a pretty good show. Luscious Jackson live is just like Luscious Jackson on record, and that's not always a terrible thing. The new album is a little less funky and a little more poppy, and the show also fell in that direction. The bottom line? It was worth being tired at work the next day to be able to see this show.
Marla Feuerstein ("marla tiara")
Dot Allison: "Colour Me" (Heavenly)
Although Dot Allison's first solo album, Afterglow, won't be out for at least another month, a teaser CD single, "Colour Me," is out now.Allison, formerly the lead singer of the critically acclaimed One Dove, has come back with dreamy vocals and trippy songs.
The title track is reminiscent of Portishead, though much less tragic. It skates along, and the chorus, "You're in heaven now, this is heaven," is breathy, sexy, and strong. This song is easily my favorite of the four tracks. Next is "Message Personnel," the "Arab Strap Long Version", with slow spoken words over a drum beat surrounded by swirly synth sounds. "Tomorrow Never Comes," the other album track on the single, is a more straightforward ballad, with Dot's vocals sweetly shining through. It's a song to fall asleep to.
Finally, an "Edit" - seemingly a misnomer as the track clocks in at 6:10 - of "Melted," with lots of electronic noise and a funky clockwork beat. Dot sounds the most like Portishead's Beth on this track, as her voice is distorted and hidden behind effects. It works. I haven't stopped listening to this CD since I bought it. It's a steal at $3, and definitely worth taking a chance on. The full length album should be one of the best CDs of1999 if it lives up to the promise of this small taste.
Marla Feuerstein ("marla tiara")
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