King Street Healers: Backyard Mind
For me, the golden age of rock and roll remains 1968-1974. They were drinking from magic wells or something and the depth, intensity and wild goofy diversity of single albums from that time is still rarely paralleled. The King Street Healers seem to have found an untapped rocker spring up in Canada and they filled their bota bags to bursting before heading into the studio. Backyard Mind struts with hip shakin’ rightness. Barefoot girls hoist their freak flags and the children dance amongst the moonpies and dogwoods in this mighty misty mountain hop. This is rock infused with the sure-footed flow of soul music, giving it all a nicely breathless rush. Jeff Mertick, a natural born front man, belts ‘em out with an assured, melodious swagger, while the consistently bitchin’ guitars of Jason Fiske provide the crazy catchy pyrotechnics. It’s sexy and cool and the kind of thing I don’t expect to hear from albums made this side of the millennium mark.
ALO: Time Expander
I’d heard nothing but huge praise for Animal Liberation Orchestra before setting ears on this platter. ALO sounds like a jam band and I think many of you know exactly what I mean. The lyrics often have a Phishy odor to them and the instrumental sections conjure up some of the same bubbling vibe as Particle. I went in expecting a funk band (which by the band’s own press and fan reports is the overall zeitgeist of ALO) and just didn’t come away with that feeling. What I heard was a fairly decent mix of vocals and playing applied to material that doesn’t do a lot to make them stand out from the pack. Could be the live experience is where they shine, couldn’t rightly say. Other than the last track, “The Womb” which dabbles in an infectious ambient reggae, none of this felt especially animal or liberating.
Harry Manx and Kevin Breit: Jubilee
An intimate conversation between two Canadian string masters. One feels as if they’ve been allowed a seat at a Sunday morning raga performed by Westerners, as delicate as a lotus leaf and hard as a diamond. Manx wraps his wonderfully lived in voice around an impeccable selection of material. The opening take on Sleepy John Estes’ “Diving Duck Blues” sets a mood that works well with both the high level originals and gems like Danny O’Keefe’s 70’s AM radio chestnut “Good Time Charlie’s Got The Blues.” Jubilee evokes the flavors of Lightnin’ Hopkins, V.M. Bhatt, David Lindley, Ennio Morricone and Bob Brozman. For those that thought the best duo recording of late was the Leo Kottke collaboration with Mike Gordon I’d recommend making room for this lovely recording in your collection.
Hazy Malaze: self-titled
Rock ‘n’ roll trimmed of all the fat, leaving only the true meat of this child of rhythm and blues. Neal Casal, Jeff Hill and Dan Fadel have crafted a trio record with all the road dirt and greasy spoon glory of Grand Funk Railroad or the James Gang in their respective heydays. If there’s a better opening cut than “Satisfy The Jones” this year I’ll be surprised. Their shambling finesse gives it a timeless rightness that stands in sharp contrast to the polished bliss of modern rock. They make it seem effortless and that’s the grace of really good musicians. Tunes like “Chicago Blondes” simmer the music down, reducing it to a primal essence. If it loses a little steam by album's end that’s a small quibble especially with such a ripping good band name and so many right moves. Like they sing on "Getaway From You," they're saving all their best shots and they're gonna give them all to you. (On a side note, Hazy Malaze will be opening for Robert Randolph in March and April and I can assure you after seeing them strut through a kickin’ half hour set recently that they will baptize converts and gather groupies wherever they play. For a band that’s only six months old there’s oodles of gooey promise. Also, for the uninitiated Neal Casal is one of the finest singer-songwriters of the past decade and produced two of the best records of the 1990’s, Fade Away Diamond Time and The Sun Rises Here.)
DJ Spooky with Mad Professor: Dubtometry
(Not Album Cover)
Cacophony, distortion, expansion, sonar depths with a twist of lemon in a glass of rum. These are just a few of the things I expect from great dub. Having nursed at the teat of King Tubby, Augustus Pablo and of course the Black Ark Madman his own self, Lee "Scratch" Perry, well, my standards are bloody high. That Spooky has corralled both Perry and the Mad Professor for this reworking of his stellar Optometry release is a signal he wants to stack this one up next to East of the River Nile, Freedom Sounds in Dub and Roast Fish Collie Weed and Corn Bread, each a celebration of the artistry of engineers, producers and the musicians who provide the raw stuff of such creation. Like the album that forms the spectral plasma for this re-imagination, Dubtometry, embraces collaboration while still maintaining its own identity. Remixes by the likes of Karsh Kale, J-Live (who’s especially on da’ money here) and the painfully under-known Twilight Circus are woven into a freaky tapestry made up of gold threads, dirt stains, hash crumbs and some strange perfume without a name.
Seconds On End: The Glow
If the Grateful Dead of 1976 had retired some long, sunny month to the countryside with Fairport Convention or Steely Span then they might have kicked out a disc like The Glow. This is a nice album that harkens back to a gentler folk-rock time. The sunset valley photos in the booklet only add to the feeling of pastoral calm. Both singers Carrie Adler and Julia Chapin have a similar warble to their voices as Maddy Prior or Sandy Denny, the kind of sound that makes one smile wistfully and wonder where indeed does the time go. With talk of planting seeds, velvet shoes, forbidding skies and deep dark glows it possesses a score of small pleasures and a very big heart.
Otis Taylor: Respect The Dead
In a solid oak voice thickly aged like vintage Scotch, Otis Taylor sings, “Let me die like a Viking, let me live like a king.” This dark hued blues release knows when to make it real soft and ghostly and when to scream it out in a righteous howl. The absence of drums actually shifts the music into another zone from the dirt floor jook joint electric blues of Mississippi that are most prevalent these days. Instead it has some of the motherland thump of Ali Farka Toure or early solo John Lee Hooker. Producer and bassist Kenny Passarelli and guitarist Eddie Turner add all the right touches to Taylor’s tales of woe and bruised hope. These are the blues with the violence and frustration and raw intimacy of real folklore left intact. Highly recommended.
Steve Miller Band: On Tour 1973-1976
For those seeking a history lesson in the heritage of jamming here’s a nifty two-CD textbook for ya, kids. Taken from one gig in 1973 and another in 1976 broadcast on the King Biscuit Flower Hour, this gives a snapshot of a rejuvenated Steve “Guitar” Miller, fresh from a broken neck and ready to tear down whatever house he happened to be rockin’. FM radio has done a great deal to wear out Stevie’s welcome with the constant bombardment of the hits like “The Joker” and “Fly Like An Eagle” but one listen to the completely reworked versions here will peel back the layers of indifference and reveal them as wonderful groove vehicles. A highlight for me is the soaring takes on “Going To The Country” and “Jackson-Kent Blues” from the criminally underrated No. 5 LP. Much has been forgotten about the amazing string of releases the Steve Miller Band put out between 1968-1976 and Miller himself may well be the primary culprit. This is evidence that the hit maker was once a king rattlesnake shaker, too.
Remember when Blue Oyster Cult put out Agents of Fortune? The first time I laid ears on "(Don’t Fear) The Reaper" I knew that the prog-metal band I loved would smash down the doors of popular radio. The scintillating production and care with every detail made the album stand up and demand attention. I get EXACTLY the same feeling listening to Wormwood. The crackling pop of every note, the quiver full of road tested tunes and the clear-eyed conviction of their playing announce a band ready to take on the big ol’ world. Not that moe. has ever sounded anything less than gigantic in scope to me but now I think they’ve crafted something that might propel them beyond their loyal followers. If anyone in AOR-radio is paying attention there’s two hits waiting to happen here: “Okayalright” as the lead off single and "Gone" for a follow-up. Toss in some high profile appearances on the late night talk show circuit and they might make the cover of the Rolling Stone yet. That they’ve made something capable of such a crossover without sacrificing any of their peculiar charms is just a sign of how this band has matured. Long may they rock.
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