Cook’s Corner 29: Throwing Bones

By: Dennis Cook

There've been many paths to divination. Romans dug inside animals to foretell the future, poking at intestines and livers to augury what lie ahead. The I Ching and ancient pagans threw symbols and bones in order to make sense of the cosmos and their place in it. In my own peculiar way, I do perform a variation on these rituals each day as I listen to music and throw my feelers into the Great Unknown ocean of sound waves.

This installment of Cook's Corner was initiated in this highly old school way. Stacks of CDs I'm curious about live near my desk but many of them linger for far longer than they should, the hours in a day insufficient for exploring all the options available. It's an ever-increasing tsunami of sound out there, kids, and I'm paddling as fast as I can. Still, the stacks wait for my attentions and this time I just picked up the two tallest columns and threw them on my bed. Eyes closed, I picked out eleven titles by touch alone. The happy, happy surprise was all of it rocked mightily – another poignant "hey hey" from the Universe that as much as we assume we know about music there's always more to be discovered and savored.

Album of the Month:
Shady Deal: The Ringer (self-released)

This is as good a pure rock record as anyone has put out in the past 20 years. Sound too loaded, too puffed up? Well, one should listen to the call-to-arms from wise, perpetually cool producer Jim Dickinson, who declares in the liner notes, "Listen to the words. They come alive and tell a story. World Boogie is coming!" Sure, Shady Deal is just three steps away from Lynyrd Skynyrd and they've clearly dined on Widespread's "Ribs And Whiskey" but these boys have also wolfed down some Goat's Head Soup and the nastier end of a Black Crowe or two. Without reservation, I can tell you if you like smart, wild-eyed southern boys, well The Ringer will twist your head like homebrew off the lips of a curvaceous belle. Lead singer-guitarist Jesse Charles Hammock belts 'em out with the pugnacious, yet oddly tender roar of a man gut shot and heart sore while the supremely tasty band behind him moves between back country acoustic blues and Motorhead heavy, balls out rock 'n' roll. It's the kind of range and fluidity one associates with the first half dozen Rod Stewart albums, where Ronnie Wood, Nicky Hopkins and the rest of the lads had their way with folk, blues and rock in a most salacious and sincere way. There's so many great moments on The Ringer I hesitate to even start listing them but I will say opener "Faulker" is as honest a picture of working class life as anyone has mustered, and "Skinny Goat" sounds so authentically dusty it could be an ancient 78 record. Their lyrical bent (and I use the word specifically) pairs lines like "Let's drag the pine box across the floor/ Take 'er on down to the Devil's door" with a brilliant non sequitur like "You belong in a magazine/ You belong in a magazine!" They can also play it straight, telling stories that will split you open a little or offering hooks that could sell more beer than Nascar. And they wrap the whole thing up with a cover of "Hurricane," a tune they probably picked up from Levon Helm's American Son, showing the depths of their pedigree. Shady Deal has long been a good band, The Ringer shows signs they might be a great one.

Fire On Fire: Fire On Fire (Young God)

Fire On Fire moves with hard plectrum and steel string steps through full lunged pastoral hymns. The internal furnace that stoked Ian and Sylvia and early Fairport Convention burns inside this South Portland, Maine addition to the ever excellent Young God Records stable. Pulled from the binding folds of wrinkled skin and mud holes, FOF roll like a modern day Carter Family with exotic instrumentation (oud, zampogna, tamburizta) poking the banjo, acoustic guitar and upright bass you might expect. Just when you've settled into their backwoods quiver, "Amnesia" arrives and throws any preconceptions out the window with its Kate-Bush-on-nitrous shockwave. Neither dour nor baldly exuberant, this five-song introductory EP (available directly from Young God or at shows) nails a very intriguing treatise to our collective church door. I suggest we hear what they have to say in full before converting but I'll be damned if I won't light a candle to this one right away.

(New) Classic Rock Joint of the Month:
Airbourne: Runnin' Wild (Roadrunner)

Infectious as the clap and three sheets past snockered, Australia's Airbourne have been to Riff Valhalla where kinsmen AC/DC and distant relatives Queen once picked up their hyper appealing chord structures. Like Bon Scott's lads, they don't overcomplicate things, and when they shout, "Stand up for rock 'n' roll," you damn betcha you'll be on your feet. Sophisticated this ain't but bloke rock shouldn't be. It should make you want to slosh beers down your gullet like Joe Cocker on a 1971 bender while you paw your mates in sloppy camaraderie. Airbourne are dirty in this clean room age. They have the same filthy feel as early Van Halen or the New York Dolls without any spandex or hairspray mucking up the works. Song titles like "Cheap Wine & Cheaper Women" and "Too Much, Too Young, Too Fast" let you know where they stand. Trust me, you want to be standing there right next to them.

Vintage Stash Pick of the Month:
Various Artists: Bippp: French Synth Wave 1979/85 (Everloving)

Like old pogo-rific punk-pop? A fan of analog synthesizers and pale, razor sharp guitars? Enjoy Donna Summer's "I Feel Love" a little more than you want your friends to know? Well, Bippp is here to satisfy your jones with a baker's dozen of hyper obscure French bands that boldly doffed skinny ties and made hay from the scary decade where Reagan ruled the world. A Trois Dans Les WC's "Contagion" starts things off with jittery catchiness and then the compilation grows more prog-touched and melancholy as it goes. Outside of really hip French teens alive and buying outside the box in the years covered, most of us will be blissfully unaware of Deux, Casino Music, Les Visiteurs Du Soir or any of the other folks included here. It's amazing how the tangled wires and flashing lights of these tunes still seem so relevant, but we are living in the plastic age, aren't we?

Damemas: Let Your Tape Rock (Part Nine)
"Gimme sex, gimme drugs, gimme bearskin rugs/ Gimme something, gimme sleep, gimme someone else to keep/ Gimme love, gimme fight, gimme my own space/ Break me off, break me down/ Just leave room for that new sound." That's a musical manifesto you can get down with, and on the basis of "Emulator" alone there's enormous promise to this fiery, freakishly fun Brooklyn band. Arena rock mojo meets something much darker and weirder in Damemas, who harness head nodding guitars to slinky, unpredictable melodies and hammer fuck strong production. Only three songs deep, Let Your Tape Rock is the kind of EP that lives on repeat when you first pop it in. You know there's other sounds you gotta get to but you just need one more pass before you can move on. Take a good whiff and you may recognize the same smoldering invention one picked up on when At The Drive-In or ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead first emerged. I await Damemas' full debut album with undisguised salivation.

Cryptacize: Dig That Treasure (Asthmatic Kitty)
Take a guitar string from Les Paul and a strand of Mary Ford's hair, a few drops of Ian Curtis' sweat, Ricky Nelson's toenail clippings, dead skin from Galaxie 500 and a napkin with Connie Francis' lipstick on it. Place them in a brass urn. Wave a copy of the Dream Syndicate's The Days of Wine and Roses over it while listening to Lambert, Hendricks & Ross. Raise the lid and you might find SF's Cryptacize inside. Michael Carreira (drums, harmonica), Chris Cohen (vocals, guitar) and Nedelle Torrisi (vocals, guitar, autoharp, strings) make dreamy, off kilter pop that's cocktail/irony free but still possessed of the spirit of '50s strange and '60s cool. There's a neat hippie-esque love and hope vibe running underneath the surface, and you'll be hard pressed to get gems like "Cosmic Sing-a-long" or "We'll Never Dream Again" out of your head. Many are bit too free with the word "charming" but that glass slipper fits their foot perfectly.

Mountain Home: self-titled (Language of Stone/Drag City)
Heed this deep blue call, lonesome travelers and full hearted shut-ins. Mountain Home accomplishes more with a whisper than most do with shouting and wailing. This halting, stately excursion into long form melancholy is a colored rose in winter, a frozen tear that dissolves against flush cheeks, a slow motion horseback ride soundtracked by weathered acoustic guitars, dulcimer and vaguely Indian drones. There's affinity to early Bert Jansch and John Renbourn, Steely Span and other Brit folk, though this is a good deal more sativa-minded. If Renaissance bards had continued to this day they might sound like Mountain Home. Produced by Greg Weeks (Espers), this debut steams the air with breathy reflections, a living cloud of dust and emotions and sweet vibrations.

Mobius Band: Heaven (Misra)
Luxuriously romantic but never overwrought, the Mobius Band vibrates with modern love's shiver. That feeling may walk beside most of us but it's clearly taken up residence in their breasts. Some moments suggest Ultravox after a chill pill but many others, like the clanging, handclap propelled "Secret Language," are hopped up, '80s inflected, Secret Machines-y sweetness. There's something of emo's pop-mope to "Control" and "Tie A Tie" but a good hook on a perpetually cloudy day, especially when attached to bittersweet, smiling lyrics like this pair, will always work. "Under Sand" will make you wistful for a time when the Psychedelic Furs were new and coke was the people's drug. The key chain mirror ball that hangs over the muted back cover landscape painting kinda sums things up in one fell swoop. A real grower this one.

Two Dark Birds: self-titled (V-fib Recordings)
In the very keen Maplewood, Steve Koester helps conjure the mistral singer-songwriter winds of Gordon Lightfoot, America and other soft rock gold. In Two Dark Birds he throws the net warmly wider. While Rust Never Sleeps, it's clearly passed out on his couch a time or two, and this group also invites Thurston Moore, The Platters and Dennis Wilson to the slumber party. Songs move with poetic jumps while the music simmers on a low heat that bubbles from time to time with electric bark and slide wistfulness. There's the electric piano teardrop of "The Second Kingdom" and the impossible to pin down sulk of "Pernod Blues." Everywhere Koester decorates the inviting sonics with lines about Easter morning flowers, buzzards and headphone umbilical cords. Cut by cut, it's mix tape silver and gold, and taken as a whole it's a new friend ready to wrap your ears in good things.

Nick Cave & Warren Ellis: The Assassination Of Jesse James... (Mute)
This soundtrack to the Brad Pitt western almost no one saw is a delightful aberration by Cave and his fellow Bad Seed, Warren Ellis (Dirty Three), akin to Neil Young's Dead Man score - instrumentals flecked with prairie haze and prickly, erratic electricity. Ellis' violin and viola is like the wind or a small bird that follows you from place to place, a caress that teases a tear from the eye. Cave plies Satie-esque piano, ringing celeste and triangle to tease the ghosts of gunfights from their slumbers. One can imagine the spirits in Disney's Haunted Mansion throwing this on when the guests have gone, turning slowly as they ache for the sorrowful, majestic pain of living, the ballroom echoing with Cave & Ellis' sad strains.

Hammer No More The Fingers: self-titled (Power Team)
This wriggles and churns in a distinctly post iPod way, mixing the angular, math-y lines of say Pavement with a splash of emo over-sensitivity and '70s FM power chording. What's so compelling about HNMTF is how they sound absolutely taken by every element, and in turn transmute base carbon into something shiny and appealing but still lovingly besmirched, ugly-pretty baubles that you'll be happy to find jangling around in your headphones as you shrug along to the delightful collapse of "Fall Down, Play Dead" or "Mushrooms," a worried but unrepentant ode to psilocybin. This 24-minute introduction fires off the starting line with surprising self-assurance and unfettered variety. Think we ought to pay attention to this Durham/Chapel Hill, NC trio, gang.

Next month, well, I'm not sure what we'll listen to together. The new Dub Trio album looks tasty and the Charles Lloyd Quartet's latest is a jazz treasure. We might well get to those two but the fates may well decide the rest. Until then, remember what ol' David Crosby once said, "If you smile at me I will understand/ Because that's something everyone does in the same language."

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[Published on: 2/19/08]

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Chaloupka starstarstar Tue 2/19/2008 12:03PM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


Shady Deal sounds interesting.

jaghabpv Tue 2/19/2008 12:03PM
Show -4 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!
sharpwp starstarstarstarstar Tue 2/19/2008 12:52PM
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Shady Deal, you belong in a magazine!!!!!!!!!

CPB1 starstarstarstarstar Tue 2/19/2008 01:54PM
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Shady Deal is the Realest! Heard!!!

tomspeed starstarstarstar Tue 2/19/2008 01:58PM
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I think there was some whiskey soaked Mississippi ghost hovering in your room and guiding your hand to that Shady Deal record. Ghosts Rock (and so does Shady Deal)!

DJ Saturday Baxter Tue 2/19/2008 02:30PM
Show -6 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!
headySetList starstarstarstarstar Tue 2/19/2008 05:19PM
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nice selection

pablofny starstarstarstarstar Wed 2/20/2008 03:04PM
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I had a chance to get a sneak listen to the new Two Dark Birds record. It's a stylized sonic wave of goodness, wrapped in some melancholy with nothing but upside. Highly recommended.