Album Reviews

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Michael Fremer  |  Jun 01, 2004  |  0 comments

Calling himself Palace Music, or Palace Brothers, or Push, and of late Bonnie “Prince” Billy, the enigmatic Will Oldham, aided by a group of musical cohorts, has been making a spare brand of dry, mournful country/rock music for more than a decade. Before the term alta-country had been coined, it could be argued, the 34 year old Oldham had both invented and perfected the musical form on a series of genre-shattering albums issued on the Chicago based Drag City label beginning in 1993.

Dr. Flamboid S. Squeeziasky  |  Apr 01, 2004  |  0 comments

Patricia Barber’s familiar, well-loved live album Companion (so designated because Barber conceived of it as a “companion” to her previous studio album Modern Cool) —long available on180g vinyl and CD—is now out on a superb sounding hybrid SACD mastered via Mobile Fidelity’s Gain 2™ system. Three evenings worth of performances at Chicago’s famed Green Mill nightspot captured to high resolution digital by famed jazz engineer Jim Anderson were distilled down by Ms. Barber to create the original album. For this issue she’s allowed Mo-Fi to add the bonus track “You Are My Sunshine,” but all involved decided against a revisionist multi-channel remix, so 2 channels are all you get, which for many will be enough and for the real diehards is one too many.

Michael Fremer  |  Apr 01, 2004  |  0 comments

Recorded live in the studio in four days, this collaborative effort produced by singer/songwriter Joe Henry attempts to revive the career of one of the great, though under-appreciated ‘60s soul singers, who has spent the past few decades in church and in relative pop-music obscurity. Back in the 1960’s in the heyday of soul, Burke, who has always straddled the secular/sanctified line, had a series of big hits on Atlantic, including “Cry to Me,” and “Everybody Needs Somebody To Love,” (co-written by Burke and producer Bert Berns) both of which were covered by The Rolling Stones.

Michael Fremer  |  Apr 01, 2004  |  0 comments

Who producer Kit Lambert flew to New York Spring of 1969 to supervise the mastering of Tommy for American Decca’s 2 LP release (Decca 7205). With the lacquers cut, Lambert declared the results a “masterpiece” and celebrated by incinerating the tapes. So the oft-repeated story goes. Fortunately, it’s not a true story, for during the tape research for this special edition, the original 2 track master tape was discovered in a storage vault. That leads one to wonder what Mobile Fidelity used a few years ago for its “Original Master Recording” gold CD issue, but why cry over spilt polycarbonate and gold sputtering when this superb edition is now available?

Michael Fremer  |  Jan 01, 2004  |  0 comments

With frenzied, wailing, guitar lines that sound more like squealing subway cars careening around sharply curved rusty tracks than what you think of as a “guitar part” in any known genre of music, and a car alarm voiced lead singer who’ll convince you Yoko Ono was on to something, Melt-Banana’s noise littered music is a neon-lit sci-fi fun house assault that at first sounds more like the sonic embodiment of a video game than an electronic re-invention of punk.

Michael Fremer  |  Jan 01, 2004  |  0 comments

While everyone’s talking about teenagers today downloading music and making custom compilations, sometimes it takes a pro or two to do it correctly, as this fabulous 20 song collection demonstrates. Originally compiled back in 1963 by Goffin and Titelman as a twelve song LP highlighting, depending upon how you look and listen to it, Dimension Records, The Brill Building hit factory, Jews ‘n’ Roll, or the genius of Goffin-King, it has been expanded by Sundazed’s Bob Irwin to include 5 additional Goffin-King classics (or semi-classics) and two other musty but vital curiosities. There's also an attempt at starting a dance craze called "Makin' With the Magilla." It's not about dancing with a gorilla, either. Check a Yiddish dictionary.

Michael Fremer  |  Jan 01, 2004  |  0 comments

In the mid-‘70s when Joni Mitchell applied the glossy red lipstick and abandoned the bucolic but spent Laurel Canyon hippie scene, it was the end of an era, and for some fans, the end of the their love affair with Joni Mitchell. Many felt betrayed—as if she’d decided to grow up while they desperately clung to their youthful, Peter Pan-ish ‘60’s idealism. The sense of abandonment and estrangement was palpable. Thirty years later artists like Neil Young prove it is possible to maintain the ‘60s zeal and ideal—at least esthetically—while this superb DVD documenting Mitchell’s musical growth and her ability to keep up with and indeed lead some of the best jazz artists of the time, proves that it’s also possible for an artist to shift musical directions 360 degrees while remaining true to core values.

Michael Fremer  |  Jan 01, 2004  |  0 comments

By now Sean O’ Hagan must be tired of music critics writing about him having a Brian Wilson/Pet Sounds fixation (I just did it too), so on the latest High Llamas album O’Hagan de-emphasizes the Wilsonian percussion and electronica in favor of “acoustica.” The sense of floating, of well being, of whimsy that his other albums exude ensues though, and what he’s ended up with here is 21st Century chamber music that resembles Brian Wilson less and Van Dyke Parks more (one of the tunes offers “…a toast to V.D.P.").

Michael Fremer  |  Jan 01, 2004  |  0 comments

Judging by the mail from some musicangle.com visitors, music and politics don’t mix well. Jean-Luc Godard’s film “One Plus One” issued here as “Sympathy For the Devil”— a version of which he apparently disapproved—serves to back up that contention, but it won’t stop me from posting an occasional political note, nor should it keep even the most right-wing among you from watching this fascinating ‘60’s artifact.

Michael Fremer  |  Jan 01, 2004  |  1 comments

If you took note of, and admired Judith Owen’s sympathetic back-ups on Richard Thompson’s The Old Kit Bag (Diverse Vinyl DIV004DLP), here’s an opportunity to hear what Ms. Owen can do on her own. The Welsh born singer/songwriter/pianist prepped for this, her third CD, by performing live at an L.A. nightspot called The Joint, backed by Herman Matthews on drums and Sean Hurley on bass. Owen and the rhythm section bravely recorded this set live in the studio in two afternoons and one evening, with a few additional afternoon sessions at the engineer’s home for duets with Richard Thompson and Julia Fordham, and some guest musicians.

Steve Taylor  |  Dec 01, 2003  |  2 comments

Born in 1997, this ensemble of Silk Road artists entered a series of albums for Shanachie Records over three subsequent years that merged Persian and Hindustani concert music ideas into a new stream of classical balladry and improvisation. As satisfying as the studio recordings proved, none of these equal the pinnacle of beauty or concentrated metaphysic disclosed in The Rain, a live recital from May 28, 2001 in Bern, Switzerland. Released by ECM Records, international watchdog for established top-end performers breaking from tradition, it was perhaps only a matter of time before Ghazal received the opportunity to have their experimental sound captured in palatial acoustic splendor.

Michael Fremer  |  Oct 01, 2003  |  1 comments

Hard to believe, but the legendary Rastapunkspeedmetal band Bad Brains began life in the late 1970’s as a Washington, D.C. based jazz/funk group called Mind Power. Then one of them heard The Sex Pistols’ Never Mind the Bollocks and the first black punk-rock group was born. You’ll hear the influence of The Clash and maybe The Stooges, but these guys invented their own sound, adding a fluidity and precision to the genre’s usual breakneck speed that no other band that I’ve heard managed to duplicate. The Sex Pistols may have inspired them, but Bad Brains demonstrated punk’s micro-groove musical possibilities because they could really play.

Michael Fremer  |  Oct 01, 2003  |  1 comments

The Welsh group’s latest album is a sprawling, densely packed ambitious affair, filled with bouncy/sludgy ‘60’s pop melodic vistas that often sink into mysterious, dark, twisted musical and violent lyrical undergrowth. Lead singer Gruff Rhys’s chocolate-coated vocals are the perfect foil for the fatalistic, slyly rendered subject matter: the war in Iraq, war in general, pollution, petro-chemical mayhem, and even a song seemingly about two pet turtles named Venus and Serena (“Flushing meadows down the stream/Living life as though it’s a dream”). All of it is delivered lightly dusted with tuneful confectioner’s sugar.

Michael Fremer  |  Oct 01, 2003  |  0 comments

My first live encounter with Dianne Reeves was at a Town Hall jazz benefit concert honoring “heroes and victims” of September 11th held that December. The array of talent included Jason Moran, Brad Mehldau, Kenny Barron, Ron Carter, Béla Fleck, Benny Golson, Joe Lovano and many others, but the appearance that stayed with me was Ms. Reeves’s. She literally lit up the stage with both positive energy and a big voice that was stunning for its clarity, phrasing precision and tonal purity. Forget the technical perfection though, Reeves connected with a directed force that no other performer that evening matched. It’s a force you will feel on every track on this effervescent disc.

Michael Fremer  |  Oct 01, 2003  |  0 comments

Aimee Mann’s pensive, surreal walk through a littered landscape of love gone wrong, double dealings, temptations (drugs and otherwise) and painful breakups (not hers— she’s still married to Michael Penn last time I checked) owes a great deal conceptually and lyrically to Elvis Costello’s Imperial Bedroom—at least to my ears. You can almost hear El singing “Guys Like Me” and “Invisible Ink.”

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