moe.: Season’s Greetings From moe.
Usually I like the “Carol of the Bells” about as much as I like the Carol of the Channing but moe. has pulled off a toe-tapper that transcends the usual treacle inherent in holiday recordings. This brief excursion has all the cozy warmth of a night snuggled up tight beside a fire. Cuddly stuff with the sole exception of the maudlin Al Schnier original “Home,” which comes off like a first tier Dan Fogelberg ballad. This brief excursion has all the cozy warmth of a night snuggled up next to the tree with somebody you love. They visit a few nostalgia laden Christmas specials with Rankin & Bass’ Rudolph (“We’re A Couple of Misfits”) and Vince Guaraldi’s signature tune from “A Charlie Brown Christmas" (“Linus & Lucy”). The dradle gets a spin with a peppy, surfy “Oh Hanukah.” Highlight of this limited release is Rob Derhak’s “Together At Christmas” where two people find their hearts woven together in a simple wreath of words disarmingly sweet enough to bring a tear to the eye.
Shuggie: What It Is...And How To Get It
Despair not rockers! For those that shake their heads when they hear critics say The Hives or The Strokes signal a return to vintage rock standards, there is hope and its name is Shuggie. This is four to the floor, balls to the wall, lighter liftin’ honey. They’ve delivered an incessantly tuneful album that’s as satisfying a hummer as they come. Shuggie understands the cymbal crashing, boyish harmonizing glam glee of Cheap Trick or the short lived Imperial Drag. Even their slow ones smolder with the kind of lush care one associates with Abbey Road Studios. How a group this good isn’t a household name is beyond me but it’s never too late for folks to get a clue. Do yourself a favor and check out their eponymous debut, too, for a cowbell tappin’ good time. No pussyfooting, man, I love this band.
Nucleus: Live From The Center
Boundless energy flows from this snapshot of one of the touring circuits new dark horses. Within these six meaty cuts are the makings of new fans. What begins fast and punchy gives way to wide-open spaces lit by fireflies and reverberating with fat drums that curve onto crackling electric side roads. Finding their way back to the trail is half the fun. The heavier emphasis on vocal pieces is probably the right move in presenting Nucleus Music to fresh ears though I look forward to the time when they release live material fully redolent with the thick, engagingly complex instrumental interplay that this one only hints at. Those that already bump STS9, Phish or Umphrey's would do well to take note. Live From The Center is a pithy invitation to hop-skip-and-jump into their bustling playground. Grab your marbles and come along.
Attila & Dave Project: Illuminated
The first words you hear on Illuminated are:
Honey, ah ah ah
Sweet leaf scent in the air
Sunny, ah ah ah
Eating the flowers in your hair
They don’t make heavy rock bands like this anymore, ones that know how to sludge it slow and know to decorate the edges with Sanskrit characters and flowers and a bleeding heart. Think Sabbath on their crazy early tangents or the Zeppelin of “The Rain Song” though Attila & Dave most closely resemble Deep Purple in all their space truckin’ glory. The autumn countryside charms of Love and Pentangle also raise up the barleycorn in their fields. Lyrics fall to clichés of gutted fish and turning wheels in a few spots but that sort of simple Sturm und Drang is part of the tradition. I’ll take this any day over the relentless heaviness of modern metal. Nothing goes on too long and they possess a good ear for crafting actual songs that don’t let their “tremendous instrumental prowess” get in the way. A finer album than any of their forefathers has released in many a full moon. Awesome seduction record for your pillow-laden oasis or the back of your El Camino.
Perpetual Groove: Sweet Oblivious Antidote
Phish Allman-dine. Clearly a labor of love, cleanly produced, played with conviction, chops to spare but I’m not sure what it adds to the table for listeners hungry for something fresh... Instrumentals, pretty as a blown glass ornaments, don’t really go anywhere for all the build-up and frequently slip into a Rick Wakeman-esque pomp. Opener is just plain dreadful. A cartoony brightness undermines pieces just as they get moving. And then the strangest thing happens. The title cut, which closes the album, is glorious, holy in a hippy sort of way. If the undeniable trancey charms of their live sets could be harnessed to the gentle vibe of this tune then I think P-Groove might have something but it ain’t there yet.
Chris Whitley: Long Way Around – An Anthology 1991-2001
Whitley comes off like the voodoo love child of Mississippi Fred McDowell and Lou Reed. His earliest recordings carried an 80’s sheen that did a lot to hide his enormous talents as both a whiskey soaked singer and a crunchy, unpredictable picker. This collection goes some distance to rectify the years spent in the wilderness of a major label that simply doesn’t know how to get him across. Demos, unreleased cuts and a well-chosen smattering of album tracks make for a little something for new listeners and the converted both. Sadly, the collection skips anything from Whitley’s stupendous collaboration with Billy Martin & Chris Wood, Perfect Day, a song cycle of cover tunes by turns harrowing and comforting. Like any “best of” set this is merely an invite to dig deeper just like the artist himself always does.
Percussion ensemble recordings rise and fall based on the spirit behind the hands and bodies making the music. Composition plays a part but the elephantine rush of POWER that the drum conjures is primal, immediate and resonates with things we cannot quite put a name to. Groovecamp has crafted a record akin to Mickey Hart's Planet Drum, with similar echoes of tablas and Brazilian beaches mixed in with the African thunder, but this is an infinitely more intimate affair. And the better for it. There’s still the pulse of real people in these grooves, the sharp intake of breath as a chant punches through the patterns of rhythm, the soft tickle of fingers on the skin of a drum. Without fanfare, it warms the blood and animates one's limbs. A careful ear will be entranced and then when one opens their eyes they find themselves dancing with the seasons and one another.
Tad Dreis: Solitaire For Two
A total gem, one of those artfully casual sounding treats that sneak under the wire from time to time. Think XTC doing a spot of skylarking in Chapel Hill, NC. There’s a few nice Kinks to the acousticy songs that keep the mush at bay. In a fair universe the charts would be full of sharply honed bedroom pop like Dreis’ “I Said I” instead of, well, what we usually get. “Back In A Few” is a double length “Yesterday,” wistful as the day is long and a damn sight stronger than any tune on Macca’s last studio effort (Driving Rain):
Say I’m afraid I mislaid all the parts that came through
And I’m ashamed that the blame has been shifted to you
Now if you look in the book you will find that it’s true
See you later, back in a few
Like a handful of great pop records that whizzed right by the popular culture (i.e. Ken Stringfellow’s Touched, Michael Penn’s Resigned and Ed Harcourt’s Here Be Monsters) this release reminds us that the sophisticated, wonderfully human music of The Beatles breaths yet.
Luna: Close Cover Before Striking
“Astronaut,” the bubbling opener on this EP gives off such a New Order flashback that you’ll want to go out and get into your own bizarre love triangle. Following that bleep-bloop is a misty eyed take on the Stones’ “Waiting On A Friend.” Expectations hang poorly on Dean Wareham. From the huge rockorchestral sound of Galaxie 500 has come the laconic persnicketiness of Luna. This pillow mint of a mini-album shows the pale sunset brilliance of Romantica and their 2001 live set haven’t been lost. And the Frank Olinsky digi-pack design is a soup can gem of pop art, too.
Paul Weller: Illumination
There are purists who insist that Weller’s best work happened long ago in The Jam. A few others, you’ll know them by their haircuts, contend that The Style Council was where it’s at. Me, I’m an apostle for Paul’s solo stuff. Once he was reborn as Mother Nature’s son on the classic Wildwood I was hooked. There’s an enduring, even timeless quality to this material that resonates heavily in my life. He’s got a knack for articulating things I’ve been struggling unsuccessfully to mold into words. After two spotty albums he’s come roaring back with what may well be his best yet. Illumination is a devil may care season cycle that one can compare favorably to The Beatles’ White Album or George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass but scaled down to terms we common folk can deal with. It’s infused with the eclecticism of the 60’s but translated to a space age studio, Lennon-McCartney jamming with Portishead in the English hills. “A Bullet For Everyone” might be the catchiest anti-war song since “Revolution.” All hyperbole aside, this is a beautiful, uplifting album in an age where we need them more than ever.
Bob Dylan: The Bootleg Series Vol. 5 – The Rolling Thunder Revue
There’s a moment 2 minutes and 54 seconds into this album that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. In a voice possessed, Bob growls, “I can hear that lonesome whistle blow!” No one sings like Dylan. Sure, they do his songs but they are still and always will be his. 1975 was a special year for Zimmy. His relentless vigor for reinvention and a creative spurt that wouldn’t quit produced his most musically exciting records yet, Desire and Blood On The Tracks. The directness of his lyrics and the crazy abandon in his voice form the core of my obsession with his work. It was these albums that first introduced the virus of Bob into my bloodstream. Finally a suitable document of his ragged medicine show finds its way to us. Dumping the snake oil prevalent in most name acts touring the land in the mid-70’s, Bob shambles from town to town, throwing up a tent and singing like Judgment Day was right around the corner. The pleasures of this entry in the Bootleg Series are too numerous to catalog. From the sickening thrill of “It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry” to the weary blue saunter through “Simple Twist of Fate” there’s too much amazing stuffed into this gorgeous package. Of all the official live releases from his Bobness this is THE one, the Rosetta Stone that unlocks the cult of Dylan for those not already practicing members.
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