COOK’S CORNER 5: MORE BETTER NOW

Moore Brothers: On & Out
The kind of record Nick Drake would buy. This stupidly talented pair of bookends conjures up the urban autumnal haze of Sir Nick and gives it a swift kick in the lyrics. Now a girl can turn you onto God and nuclear power in the same breath. It feels both fresh and familiar as a melody we have sung since the cradle. There’s a Hollies-like sweetness but without all of Graham’s syrup or political finger wagging. This is manna for the journal keepers, barefoot dreams for those that feel crushed by the bombast of the day, pop music that doesn’t lower itself to the common denominator but instead keeps the conversation lively, subtle and sure. Smart music for smart people, and a harbinger of terrific things to come.

Project/Object: The Dream of the Dog
A hot tub party in a hookah, melting digital clocks dripping down the walls and fusion splendor sax making everything moist. Warnings about the brown acid and invitations to try the cough drops waft over vibes, a suggestion of something like the outline of a cloud seen from a grassy lie down. While Project/Object is known primarily as purveyors of things Zappa in nature, this collection of pure improvisations hints at strange, spongy layers of the band’s very own. The chop suey George W. Bush samples interspersed amongst the titanic drums and woogly guitars mocks the fool, taking his legs out from under him by showing him as the caricature that he is. Power is given by the people and it can also be taken away in myriad ways. Project/Object renovate Frank’s stance of vulgar independence for a new generation, mining surreal musical and social disobedience with this bright silver noisemaker of an album.

Global Funk Council: Keep On Pushin’
A big rhythmic sound dominated by the very talented Eric Bolivar, former inhabitant of the Tiny Universe and now funky drummer behind this Council. I hear the sound of 1978 or so, smoothed out, positivity-laden soul jazz that flirts with the current electronic revolution. What I don’t hear is an engaging compositional foundation. They have a big sound that swings between your-soaking-in-it chill to an almost Transglobal Underground kind of world beat, but the vocal tracks are far too saccharine and sincere to jive effectively.

Transcendental Hayride: We Love You
A wild weed growing amongst fields of scarlet begonias and okra. There’s plenty of hick in their giddey-up and many of the songs feel like a lost cache of Hoyt Axton or Kris Kristofferson gems that were unearthed in the tilling that produced this album. What sets this apart from those countrypolitans is a penchant for taking a left turn at Albuquerque and winding up swinging on the rings of Saturn. Maybe there’s spotted mushrooms growing in a row near their roots but the flavor of this green thing is sharp, fragrant and full of dripping colors. A breathless barn dance that doesn’t wait for you to accept its invitation before grabbing your hand and making you spin on a dusty floor.

Dan Bern: Fleeting Days
I’d heard the name Dan Bern for the past six or seven years but never gotten around to actually listening to him. Fleeting Days rolled up on my doorstep and plain old curiosity made me throw it on one sunny afternoon. In a voice stuck somewhere between a pubescent Dylan and an Anglicized Elvis Costello, Bern croons with that ever youthful vibe that only pop dudes seem to possess. It took about four songs before I hit something that stood out beyond a loose homage to the aforementioned tunesmiths: “Closer To You” possesses a keen eye for detail bonded to a soft hook. With Bern backed by his International Jewish Banking Conspiracy, the album has a wistful sturdiness surprisingly free of the political bent I’d heard that his music usually contains. Regret and worry seem the prominent poles the tunes row between. A good sign is: I kept listening all the way to the end and then doubled back for a second taste of a half dozen tunes. A not unpleasant diversion from one’s own worrying.

Al & The Transamericans: Analog
At first this doesn’t seem all that different from Mr. Schnier’s recent contributions to moe., but then Gordon Stone’s pedal steel shifts into high gear on “I Will” and they’re off to races. Al’s wonderful whine is all too perfect for twang, and he works it with a verse spitting punch that invigorates not only the new stuff but also makes for a “Waiting For The Punchline” that kicks the tail of the original moe. rendition. The interplay of the musicians is more playful than his regular gig, too. They sound like they actually have long, yellow pieces of hay between their teeth and all their picking has them grinning. A leg slapper of a nice surprise.

Albert King: Talkin’ Blues
Here’s the deal: fans love artists and when artists die they still hunger for more, more, more. Now most folks don’t have an unreleased arsenal like Easy E, and this live set, recorded in Chicago on February 10, 1978, fills a need many blues fans have been feeling. A tasteful, tight horn section fills in the open spaces and King uses his guitar like an electric saw to cut away falseness in those magic 12-bars. While maybe not King’s finest hour vocally, it is solid as a rock and includes sections of an interview that provides insight into the blue thoughts behind the music. Truly a labor of love for fans of this legend.

new monsoon: downstream
The “Mountain Air” that opens this river voyage is just the thing to make one hop onto a barrel and head off with a band. It’s the first of many cosmic cowboy tunes that litter this terrific release. Plenty of sweet sweet slide work makes for serious country comfort while the voices sing in a pure, clean tone reminiscent of early Eagles or Poco. They might stone me for saying it, but on “Ladybug” they even evoke Seals & Crofts. None of this is a dig because their tunes hold up well held up against music that has endured for decades. That they can weld such past radio stalwarts to a musical bent not dissimilar to Garaj Mahal is doubly impressive. Their thickly percussive feel excels over Garaj, though, because their songs are so much more engaging than the endless noodling of Fareed and Company. new monsoon belts out utterly non-cynical sing-a-longs and then drops a fogged out road funk like “Double Clutch” on you. Diverse it is, but never in a labored way. The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band might be a good touchstone for their free-range rambling. downstream harkens back to an age where radio friendly music could be both accessible AND richly textured.

Various Artists: Love, Peace & Poetry: Brazilian Psychedelic Music
A saucerful of rich, creamery secrets nursed from the udders of Brazil’s young set in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. The latest entry in the Love, Peace & Poetry series of international psych could proudly stack up next to all those Nuggets compilations in your vinyl archives. Many of the 19 acts presented takes their cues from cult darlings Os Mutantes and the English language dabblings of Caetano Veloso, but there’s also some of Spirit’s spirit floating around in this Vanilla Fudge. Who cares if you know what they’re singing in Portuguese? Like Roland Barthes said, there’s pleasure in listening to the tonal fluctuations of foreign tongues. And this is the secret weapon you’ve been waiting for to spice up your mix tapes and blind dates. Even if you find yourself without a new amour to entertain, there’s still the quality vintage cheesecake shots of California Girl Cheryl Shrode in the well-written, informative booklet to help you feel that Rio heat.

Chris Whitley: Hotel Vast Horizon
A genuinely haunting song cycle that feels like a melancholy update of John Lee Hooker’s It Serves Me Right To Suffer. Both LPs have visionary singer-guitarists backed by crack rhythm teams, and both delve into the darkest, craggiest spots in their psyche in a way that perversely shines a light, making those places less scary to the rest of us. And of course, there’s that voice. Whitley sounds like Chet Baker dipped in Jeff Buckley. Yeah, that good. From potent whispers to hair raisin’ howls, he counts off small stories that often feel like Washington Irving folk tales while casually tossing off lines like “It’s alchemical” with an off-hand grace. Recorded in a brisk seven-day recording session last December, there’s a boot-on-board immediacy to this corker. Individual cuts blur but the whole hangs together wonderfully and comes to a close on the ghostly, metallic pluck of a banjo coda that lingers in the air long after the speakers go silent.

Ben Swire: Equilibrium
Clocking in just a shade over 17 minutes, this EP contains tiny worlds full of melting motherboards and Tangerine Dream synthology. Swire effectively, and even gracefully, wanders the same stark landscapes as Airports-era Eno and Jorge Reyes in a series of moving still-lives that crackle, hum and moan. A compelling entry in the Foundry (a consistently quality label) EP Series and a note in a bottle for fans of experimental instrumental music.

Psychedelic Breakfast: Bona Fide
Only 30 seconds in and I was reminded of Thin Lizzy, which is double duty high praise for this writer. “Drunk Monk Bar” is all hard and heavy and turns on a dime. The singing on this live recording from September 14th, 2002 is caked with road dust and rings true to the rocker spirit barking loudly throughout much of Bona Fide. The Breakfast isn’t afraid to RAWK and a few of the guitar solos roar with the cartoonish glee of Steve Vai backing Diamond Dave. The vein they’re mining is awfully similar to Umphrey's McGee, except with a little less B.O.C. and a bit more Quicksilver Messenger Service to spacecify things. “Wild Pack of Asscracks” has the whiff of stinky good Zappa. That’s a lot of big footsteps to walk in, but this band seems to have good-sized feet and an adventurous lilt that makes for a bloody good (if exhaustingly relentless) time. Throw in home fries and a cup of steaming hot joe and I can’t imagine anyone going away hungry.

Cook's Corner 1 | Cook's Corner 2 | Cook's Corner 3 | Cook's Corner 4

Dennis Cook
JamBase | West Coast
Go See Live Music!

Find rants, writing, ramblings and an archive of music articles at denniscook.com.

[Published on: 4/3/03]

Take full advantage of all JamBase has to offer by signing up for an account!


You'll receive

show alerts

when your favorite artists announce shows, be eligible to enter contests for

free tickets

, gain the ability to

share your personalized live music calendar

and much more. Join JamBase!