By: Dennis Cook
Been way too long since we were down on the Corner. The reasons are too numerous, silly and depressing to recount but the main thing my hands have been happily full with is the Corner's newest citizen, Isaac Crow Cook. Trust me, there's a lot less time to do bong hits and listen to weird music on headphones when you have a baby! Glad to be back. Revamped the Corner a little, added new bits, slimmed down others. However, the mission of this column remains unchanged – shining a spotlight on good music folks might otherwise miss. With that in mind, here's a few stragglers from '06 and some sweet stuff from '07.
Isaac Crow Cook
Album of the Month:
Akron/Family: Meek Warrior (Young God)
This tickles the chin of the infinite, cajoling giggles and snorts from the collective unconscious, as longhaired children cavort around their Gnostic bonfire. Frightening, thrilling and ultimately joyous, Meek Warrior - only the second full-length from Akron/Family – skips across huge territories of sound and thought. It's clanging and experimental enough to be some lost ESP-Disk classic yet it still rocks like a mule on moonshine. There's country comfort to these loosely philosophical rambles, which feature some primo guest spots from avant jazz drummer Hamid Drake, flautist Ohad Benchetrit and clarinet/sax player Charles Waters. The opening 10-minute torrent – a brave, sprawling attack on mediocrity and genre straightjackets – would be reason enough to check this out but there's gentle commune chants and acid cowboy jaunts waiting just past the gate. Meek Warrior is the descendent of Pharoah Sanders' Thembi and Alice Coltrane's Transcendence infused with the finger-picked spirit of Steve Goodman and Leo Kottke. Every visit holds fresh delights as this plush, subtle beast settles into your lap and purrs for all it's worth.
Prime Cuts: "Blessing Force," "Gone Beyond"
Brad Brooks: Spill Collateral Love (Mouth Magic)
Radiohead would dig Brooks. Lots. This really fine release drops out of the sky with songs that resonate like The Bends or Rufus Wainwright's simmering 1998 debut – thoughtful tracks packed with cool instrumentation, evocative, weirdly funny lyrics and an uncanny knack for making ears prick up. Brooks' gorgeous, powerful voice echoes Thom Yorke but has plenty of soft and jagged nuances all his own. There's nothing timid or withdrawn about Spill, which seems drawn from a much deeper well than most stuff out there. Lay some of the credit on producer/multi-instrumentalist Paul Hoaglin (The Mother Hips/Sensations) who gives everything a lush wash worthy of Lee Hazelwood or George Martin. A nice range of moods prevails, from the handclap rush of "Lathered In Cream" to the string-boosted corridors of "Hit Me Like A Smile." It's easy to see this becoming someone's favorite album. Brooks recklessly reaches into his own chest in an effort to grab your heart. Let him and you won't be sorry.
Prime Cuts: "Ex-Stripper Librarian," "Love On My Sleeve"
(New) Classic Rock Joint of the Month:
Super 400: 3 And The Beast (Electric Mombie Music)
When I hear Super 400's spleen shaking low end and positively feral guitars I want to ditch everything and become their roadie. If they'd been born 30 years earlier they'd have opened for Thin Lizzy and Bad Company, and they'd have made the headliners sweat every night. This is rock 'n' roll as religion – hard and high reaching, denim apostles with big amps and even bigger balls. 3 And The Beast is heavier than its predecessors but still swivels on lubricated hips. Singer-guitarist Kenny Hohman has a boulder-busting wail worthy of Steve Marriott's Humble Pie days. Drummer Joe Daly and bassist Lori Friday consistently remind us why the power trio is such a holy combo. In a just world, Super 400's latest would be gatefold double vinyl we could sort out the seeds and stems on. Glorious.
Prime Cuts: "I Bet My Soul On You," "All Is Right"
Vintage Stash Pick of the Month:
Catherine Howe: What A Beautiful Place (Numero Group)
Numero breaks from their tradition of "beyond obscurity" compilations to lift this sterling, ultra-rare English folk-nutter from the dusts of 1971. This is a sublime morning soundtrack, a waiting shoulder in tearful times, and the perfect companion for tea. The spoken word bits are like a fractured fairytale surrounding quasi-orchestral productions that'd sit well next to The Carpenters, non-Fairport Sandy Denny, and Cat Stevens. At times she equals Joni Mitchell at the height of her powers. Yet, this never feels like a knockoff of anyone else. Like most great artifacts of that era, one listens for the authenticity of the ache. Howe is a gorgeous bruise changing colors before our eyes. Hugely recommended.
Prime Cuts: "Words Through A Locked Door," "It Comes With The Breezes"
The Dreadful Yawns: Rest (Exit Stencil)
Sometimes we come across a stranger so quietly right on, so easy livin', we let them slip past our defenses as we pass that bottle of red we've been saving for just the proper occasion. The Dreadful Yawns are that kinda stranger. Like some new, weird America (as in "Sister Golden Hair"), they draw country comfort from Gene Clark and dear Gram but also Mazzy Star and Mojave 3. Formed in Cleveland in the late '90s, the Yawns are dreamy but not sleepy. There's too many freaky lyrical curves, too much unadulterated beauty in their music to just drift through it. Rest arrives just in time for summer days that happily dwindle into long, sultry nights. Oil the porch swing and get ready to fall in love.
Prime Cuts: "You've Been Recorded," "Candles"
Christina Aguilera: Back To Basics (RCA)
The mainstream ain't all bad. Aretha Franklin and Smokey Robinson hit the charts and still managed to create catalogs of enduring depth. In today's consciously ephemeral recording industry, Ms. Aguilera is the rare keeper. Besides some of the most formidable pipes in decades, her latest shows a hitherto unknown ambition and vision. Back To Basics is a flawed gem with oodles of bounce (courtesy of Gang Starr's DJ Premier's brass-tastic production) behind her mad gospel fervor. There's enough stylistic diversity to make you think she's got a Let's Get It On or Off The Wall in her. The best bits have the Bee Gees' irresistible '70s strut or Roberta Flack's nuanced ballad sense. Don't let the fact she's a unit mover and video doll fool you, Aguilera is a serious talent.
Prime Cuts: "Save Me From Myself," "Makes Me Wanna Pray" (co-written by and featuring Steve Winwood on bangin' piano)
Fridge: The Sun (Temporary Residence)
Post-rock is a nasty little earwig that's long outstayed its welcome. This UK trio has the genre-splatter of Tortoise or Sweden's Salvatore but hungrier rhythms and a Mad Professorial gusto for sonic tweakery. Twitchy as a 4 a.m. coke buzz, The Sun scrapes coiled strings and skitters around on ragged claws torn from silent seas. There are glistening moments of astonishing tenderness, notably "Our Place In This," which captures the soft head throbbing aftermath of a long night. Bassist Adem Ilhan, drummer Sam Jeffers and guitarist Kieran Hebden tread with quiet assurance on their first album in six years. They should always take their time if the results are this fantastically exploratory and off-handedly poetic.
Prime Cuts: "Eyelids," "Our Place In This"
Meg Baird: Dear Companion (Drag City)
Baird is winsome nectar for thirsty hummingbirds. In the Espers she adds a smartly bitter tang but this solo debut finds her singing with the gorgeous, ageless lift of cult jewels Bridget St. John and Shelagh McDonald. It's a sound one holds close to the breast, a sepia portrait in a handcrafted locket that always touches us. She drops the volume and sashays through well-turned traditionals, obscure covers (acid-folk forefather Chris Thompson's "River Song" and a stunning read of Jimmy Webb's "Do What You Gotta Do") and originals that hold their own. This is a twilight soundtrack, alone time music, the stuff of early David Crosby and Olivia Newton-John, played with a rare care and delicacy - simply one of the prettiest, nicest records to come along in a month of Sundays.
Prime Cuts: "Dear Companion," "The Waltze of the Tennis Players"
Glenn Jones: Against Which The Sea Continually Beats (Strange Attractors)
"Solos for 6 & 12 string guitar" reads the subtitle. When the hands and wild intellect handling those solos is Cul de Sac's Glenn Jones then we're talking massive understatement. Surely moving in the footsteps of uber-acoustic guitarist John Fahey (given grand tribute here on "The Teething Necklace"), Jones honors but never imitates. This set has a waterfall cascade and silver stringed shimmer that echoes Windham Hill's Will Ackerman but given much greater wingspan. He etches whole worlds and elaborate tales using a single instrument, everything given movement and glow in what is unquestionably the work of a true master.
Prime Cuts: "David and the Phoenix," "Freedom Raga"
Jason Holstrom: The Thieves of Kailua (Mill Pond)
A decade late to take advantage of the late '90s lounge music renaissance, Holstrom has nevertheless created a coconut dream pie for your ears. Beginning on a "Crystal Green" wave, Kailua surfs the coastline of Martin Denny, Friends of Dean Martinez, the High Llamas and Devo's E-Z Listening Disc, with ska tangents and Les Paul and Mary Ford strange pop. As ice clunks into blenders and the days grow longer, this loving throwback goes down terrifically easy, conjuring visions of a sloshed Don Ho blowing tiny bubbles while bronzed beach babes stroll past in slow motion.
Prime Cuts: "The Thieves of Kailua," "Bit Of Sunshine"
Patrick Park: Patrick Park In Spaceland 9/26/06 (Spaceland)
Part of hip Los Angeles music spot Spaceland's joint venture with ever-nifty indie label Kufala, this finds the SoCal singer-songwriter set on an especially good night. Park garnered major label buzz for his 2003 long player Loneliness Knows My Name (which followed the more satisfying Under The Unminding Sky EP) but quickly found he might be too smart and melancholy to wade the mainstream. These naked arrangements, just Park and his acoustic, show off his cunning melodies and brainy verses. He writes like Leonard Cohen but sings 'em like James Taylor, a young buck in the same league as Tom Freund and Jeffrey Foucault. This offers up mostly new material, which is uniformly excellent. It's an old game but as Park sings, "You better wipe that dust from the tip of your tongue and sing what ain't been sung."
Prime Cuts: "Take It Back," "Honest Screw"
Def Leppard: Yeah! (Island/Universal)
A caveat: This in no way redeems Leppard's past muddle headed, hyper pandering pop-metal but credit where credit's due. Yeah! is stupidly delightful drivin' music, a sincere, well crafted homage to the bands that inspired these Union Jacks to pile into a tour van in the first place. You halfway expect ZZ Top's video tramps to show up when you press play. Over the course of 14 inspired cover tunes, Def Leppard shows huge affection (and no little skill at imitating) the likes of Queen, T. Rex, ELO, The Sweet, Dave Essex, Roxy Music and Free. Self-produced, it's less glossy than their usual airbrushed sound, and there's an undeniable garage aesthetic that's too right to fight. You could try to resist their hellcat hot take on "20th Century Boy" or the Phil Collen sung brawl with The Faces' "Stay With Me" but why try? If Wolfmother played the same songs hipster critics would wet themselves. As it is, the old farts have done their elders proud.
Prime Cuts: David Bowie's "Drive-In Saturday" and Thin Lizzy's "Don't Believe A Word"
Next month we tackle quality country from Adrienne Young, Chris Robinson collaborator Jonathan Wilson's new album, Ladybug Transistor's latest and visit with Arthur & Yu. Till then, be good to your earholes, kids...
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