Posts Tagged ‘Yep Roc’

Los Straitjackets: Yuletide Beat

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

LosStraitjackets_YuletideBeatLos Straitjackets rock the holiday classics, instrumental style

What says “The Holidays” more than a primo wave of tremolo guitar and a rockin’ backbeat? If you’re the masked men of Los Straitjackets, nothing says Christmas better than super-stoked versions of holiday classics. They first rocked the holidays with their 2002 release ‘Tis the Season for Los Straitjackets, but this time out they’re melding iconic melodies with the rhythms and riffs of iconic rock instrumentals. “Deck the Halls” takes on the rhythm guitar signature of “I Fought the Law,” and “We Three Kings” is given the buzzing, single-string treatment of Dick Dale’s “Misirlou.” Los Straitjackets translate “Oh Tannenbaum” into the Latin instrumental “Que Verdes Son,” give “Joy to the World” the Stax treatment, borrow the opening riff and guitar styling of “Buckaroo” for “Jingle Bells,” and play “O Come All Ye Faithful” as if the Tornadoes broke into “Telstar” at the company Christmas party. This is a fresh spin from start to finish, and will add some much needed rock ‘n’ roll spice to your holiday music carousel. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]

Young Fresh Fellows: I Think This Is

Tuesday, July 7th, 2009

YoungFreshFellows_IThinkThisIsThe Young Fresh Fellows stock up on irreverence

Seattle’s Young Fresh Fellows return with their first album since 2001’s Because We Hate You. With band leader Scott McCaughey having joined REM as an auxiliary member and turning out albums with the loose-knit Minus 5, the Fellows have become something of a side project. Add to that the late-80s departure of co-founder Chuck Carroll, and the band’s irreverent ethos is more of a thread than whole cloth, stitching things together rather than organically binding twenty-somethings who live and play with one another on a daily basis. The new songs, two by guitarist Kurt Bloch, two by drummer Tad Hutchison and the rest by McCaughey, capture the band’s loony humor if not its early fraternal bonds. There are a few newly minted Fellows classics here: “Go Blue Angels Go” is the theme song for a yet-to-be-created hydro-plane themed limited animation TV show. “Let the Good Times Crawl” is a convincing Sunset Strip garage rocker sent back from 1965, and “Lamp Industries and “Suck Machine Crater,” whatever their inside jokes are about, are bouncy pleasures. The foursome still delivers wacky songs stretched across a deep love of pop, punk and rock sounds with simple punch and energy. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]

MP3 | New Day I Hate
Young Fresh Fellows’ MySpace Page

The Minus 5: Killingsworth

Tuesday, July 7th, 2009

Minus5_KillingsworthScott McCaughey indulges his Ray Davies jones

After the Beatle-esque pop of 2007’s The Minus 5, this Scott McCaughey-led collective returns with a new lineup and a twangier country-rock sound. McCaughey and companion Peter Buck are back, alongside Colin Meloy, additional members of the Decemberists and other guests. As on all of the collective’s albums, McCaughey’s vocals and songs provide the binding component, the latter of which include a healthy dose of downbeat, troubled and troubling themes. Pedal steel, banjo and general melancholy make a straightforward match to the lyrical tenor, with McCaughey sounding remarkably like Ray Davies in his mid-period Kinks prime – in both nasal vocal tone and social content.

The album opens with the bitter remains of a failed courtship and closes with the despondent misery of a troubled and broke bar fly. In between McCaughey offers the sort of opaque lyrics he’s written regularly for both the Minus Five and the Young Fresh Fellows. His titles and lyrics intimate deeper personal meanings, but they’re not always easily revealed. He resurfaces for a portrait of the working musician’s nightmare, “The Lurking Barrister,” he eyes unsparing isolation and social decay in “Big Beat Up Moon” and excoriates fundamentalism with “I Would Rather Sacrifice You.” The Kinks vibe is strong on “Vintage Violet,” with the She Bee Gees singing along as a girl-group Greek chorus.

McCaughey’s used the ever-shifting membership of the Minus Five to give each of the “band’s” releases a distinct flavor. In contrast, the parallel release by the Young Fresh Fellows, I Think This Is, has to work to recapture the group’s vibe. McCaughey’s jokey, ironic and sometimes startlingly penetrating songs support both bands, but the free hand of perpetual reinvention gives an edge to the Minus Five. Without having to hit a specific musical or emotional tone, the Minus Five indulges whatever is currently running around McCaughey’s head. This year it seems to be (among other things) Muswell Hillbillies. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]

MP3 | The Long Hall
The Minus 5’s MySpace Page

John Doe and the Sadies: Country Club

Monday, July 6th, 2009

JohnDoeSadies_CountryClubTerrific set of classic country covers from X/Knitters vocalist

John Doe’s penchant for country and roots has never been a secret. Though originally pegged as a punk rock singer with X, the acoustic spin-off Knitters and his solo work demonstrated he could sing effectively in quieter settings. Paired here with the Sadies, he capitulates fully to the classic country music that’s so clearly influenced him. Best of all, he sings in a relaxed style that unlocks new levels of tone and tempo. The Sadies, for their part, are as tight as the Nashville A-listers who originally cut these tunes behind Waylon Jennings, Roger Miller, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Porter Wagoner, Kris Kristofferson, Merle Haggard, Tammy Wynette and Bobby Bare. But as easily as they pick the original fiddle-and-steel instrumental “Ping Mountain Rag” and Western-tinged guitar hoedown “The Sudbury Nickel,” they also render “The Night Life” with enough atmosphere to suggest the debauchery of “House of the Rising Sun” and add a spacey edge to “’Till I Get it Right.”

Doe proves himself not just a compelling singer, but an excellent stylist. He’s obviously a fan (and in some cases a student) of the originals, but he’s not slavishly devotional. He picks up on Carl Mann’s upbeat rockabilly treatment of “Take These Chains From My Heart” (which itself was quite distinct from Hank Williams’ and Ray Charles’ sorrowful takes), but converts the driving original into a bouncier country beat. His take on “(Now and Then) There’s a Fool Such as I” follows Hank Snow’s slow original (or even more closely, Jim Reeves’ cover) rather than Elvis’ upbeat take. This is everything that Doe’s fans have waited for over the years: a great set of songs filtered through effortless vocal performances and backed by the encyclopedic and tasteful chops of the Sadies. Like all great covers albums, this one will remind you of the original versions’ greatness without sending you scrambling to hear them. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]

John Doe and the Sadies’ MySpace Page

Los Straitjackets: The Further Adventures of Los Straitjackets

Monday, July 6th, 2009

LosStraitjackets_FurtherAdventuresA straight shot of instrumental guitar rock

It’s been awhile since the masked men of guitar rock cut a straight-up album of instrumentals, and this one is a gem. You can hear links with many great instrumental guitar acts of the past, including the Shadows, Davie Allen & The Arrows, the Ventures, and Link Wray, but also Northwest grunge masters the Wailers, post-punk practitioners the Raybeats, and Americana greats the Sadies. Someone should pit Los Straitjackets against the Sadies in a cage match at a classic car show – everyone would win. The group’s new songs have memorable melodies, pulsating tribal rhythms, and plenty of awesome guitar (both lead and rhythm) to slice through your brain like a fuzzy reverb knife. Anyone who loves the ‘60s surf ‘n’ drag sound will dig these tunes, and if you squint just right you can imagine this as the soundtrack of a long lost AIP biker flick. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]

MP3 | Sasquatch
Los Straitjackets’ Home Page
Los Straitjackets’ MySpace Page

Various Artists: The Man of Somebody’s Dreams — A Tribute to the Songs of Chris Gaffney

Tuesday, May 26th, 2009

various_themanofsomebodysdreamsSoulful tribute to Southern California roots legend

Chris Gaffney, who passed away from liver cancer in 2008, was a consummate musical insider. Though he recorded six solo albums, and co-led the Hacienda Brothers with Dave Gonzalez, his reputation remained strongest with among his fellow musicians and songwriters. His contributions as a member of Dave Alvin’s Guilty Men were sufficiently important to lead Alvin to temporarily derail the latter’s performances upon the former’s passing. Gaffney’s synthesis of country, roots rock, Memphis soul and norteño powered not only his own work, but all those with whom he played or who played his songs. His songwriting, singing and accordion took on varying shades as he stood out front, shared the spotlight with Gonzalez, or provided support for Alvin, but he wasn’t a chameleon, he was a straw that stirred the drink.

When Alvin temporarily sidelined the Guilty Men, he spent some time producing this rich, eighteen track tribute to the songs and spirit of his compadre. Many of Gaffney’s Southern California cohorts are here, including Los Lobos, John Doe, Dave Gonzalez and Big Sandy. Also included are leading lights of Americana singer-songwriting, including Joe Ely, Peter Case, Jim Lauderdale, Tom Russell, James McMurtry and Robbie Fulks. More surprising are appearances by Boz Skaggs and a Freddy Fender track borrowed from the Texas Tornados’ 1996 release 4 Aces. Skaggs might seem like the odd man out in this company, but his smooth ’70s soul sound is an excellent match for Gaffney’s Stax-flavored “Midnight Dream.”

Everyone here fits their chosen (or given) song to a tee. Gaffney’s accordion is echoed in Flaco Jimenez’s playing on “The Gardens” and norteño horns are heard in Calexico’s cover of “Frank’s Tavern.” Los Lobos brings a sad romanticism to the album’s waltzing title track and Alejandro Escovedo brings sad memories to “1968.” Jim Lauderdale, Robbie Fulks and John Doe each pour out a glass full of country tears, and Peter Case gives “Six Nights a Week” a roadhouse run-through. Alvin and Gonzalez sing their tracks as if they’re love songs to their departed friend, neither seeming ready to let go, and Dan Penn sings as a proud father who’s outlived his musical progeny.

Gaffney’s musical influences form a collage that’s mirrored by the collection of friends and admirers who’ve gathered to celebrate his life. The number of A-list songwriters who stopped by to sing a favorite from Gaffney’s catalog is a mark of how deeply his songs touch those who understand the nuts and bolts of songwriting craft. That the songs are so perfectly interpretable by others shows that their adoration is well deserved. The album closes with a previously unreleased Gaffney performance of “Guitars of My Dead Friends.” Leave it to a master to write the perfect capstone to his own tribute. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]

MP3 | 1968 Alejandro Escovedo
Chris Gaffney Obituary

Dave Alvin and the Guilty Women: Dave Alvin and the Guilty Women

Tuesday, May 26th, 2009

davealvin_guiltywomenAlvin kicks up new sparks with guilty women

Having debuted this all-female backing lineup at San Francisco’s Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival in 2008, Dave Alvin and his estrogen-packing band have waxed a gem. Christy McWilson and Amy Farris’ harmonies and duets prove compelling partners to Alvin’s baritone on an album of blues, rock, folk and a few surprises. Chief among the surprises is the Cajun fiddle and pedal steel arrangement of Alvin’s “Marie Marie,” rendered so convincingly that it will take you a second to remember the Blasters signature original. From there the group comes out blasting with the galloping electric folk-blues “California’s Burning,” an allegorical tale that provides a requiem for the Golden State’s cash-strapped coffers. Alvin and McWilson duet like Richard and Mimi Fariña here, and Cindy Cashdollar adds some fiery slide playing.

The passing of friend and bandmate Chris Gaffney was one of Alvin’s motivations for forming this alternative to his Guilty Men, and he’s obviously in a reflective, memorial mood. “Downey Girl” remembers fellow Downey high school student Karen Carpenter and in his middle age Alvin finds a sympathetic appraisal of her fame. Nostalgia for young-pup years has always threaded through Alvin’s work, and with “Boss of the Blues” he ties together a nostalgic memory of Joe Turner with Turner’s own nostalgic memories of the golden years of the blues. One of the album’s happiest and transformative memories, of being dropped off at a Jimi Hendrix concert, opens with the “Folsom Prison” rewrite, “My mother told me, be a good boy, and don’t do nothing wrong.”

Christy McWilson (Dynette Set, Pickets) sings lead on a pair of her own originals, “Weight of the World” and “Potter’s Field,” continuing the mood of struggle that pervaded her two Alvin-produced solo albums. A real standout is her up-tempo duet with Alvin on a cover of Tim Hardin’s oft-covered “Don’t Make Promises.” Alvin and McWilson have paired for ’60s covers before, notably Moby Grape’s “805” on 2002’s Bed of Roses, but this one’s extended acoustic guitar jam really hits the mark. The closing cover of “Que Sera, Sera” suggests Alvin may be ready to move past his grief, but the song’s fatalism is strangely at odds with the rocking country blues arrangement.

When he’s not fondly remembering happier times, Alvin sings low through much of the album, reaching a level of quiet introspection on “These Times We’re Living In” that brings to mind Leonard Cohen. The loss of Chris Gaffney has left a mark on Alvin, and for now at least, his music. His backing band is not just a terrifically talented quintet deeply steeped in the roots of their shared music, but a place for Alvin to rest his soul and rethink his relationship to the Guilty Men minus one. This is more than a temporary respite; it’s a revitalizing step towards artistic and personal rediscovery. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]

MP3 | Nana and Jimi
Dave Alvin Home Page #1
Dave Alvin Home Page #2

BeauSoleil: Alligator Purse

Monday, January 19th, 2009

beausoleil_alligatorpurseFine program of traditional and contemporary Cajun music

Formed in the mid-70s as a platform for Louisiana fiddler Michael Doucet’s appreciation of his native Cajun musical traditions, BeauSoleil has become an integral part of the history it sought to provide popular resuscitation. More importantly, by interweaving Cajun, zydeco, country, blues, jazz, and other sounds, BeauSoleil not only sparked renewed interest in Southern Louisianan sounds, but moved beyond simple preservation (to the consternation of some critics) to innovation. Doucet’s early studies in the UK and France provided exposure to the genre’s classic songs, the music’s European roots, and the techniques of seminal players. As the lessons were internalized the group has more freely inflected the classics with new flavors and drawn non-Cajun material into the fold. The group’s latest (their 29th release!) includes collaborations with Natalie Merchant, Garth Hudson, John Sebastian and others.

Doucet comes out blazing on the instrumental “Reel Cajun (451 N. St. Joseph),” nearly sawing his fiddle in half as he pays tribute to Dennis McGee. Second line drumming provides an apt rhythm for the French translation of Muddy Waters’ “Rollin’ & Tumblin’,” rendered here as “Rouler et Tourner.” Julie Miller’s “Little Darlin’,” which originally appeared as a duet with her husband Buddy Miller on 2004’s Love Snuck Up, has its backwoods country twang taken upbeat by Doucet and Natalie Merchant. Cooling down with the New Orleans stroll of “Marie” (supplemented by Andy Stein’s superb sax solo) you start to feel this disc is sequenced as an evening’s dance program. The band combines classic fiddle and accordion lines with the more contemporary sound of a flat-picked guitar on the waltz-time “Valse á BeauSoleil,” and gives dancers a chance to promenade with “Bosco Stomp.”

The mid-30’s ballad “La Chanson de Théogène Dubois” is transformed with a Latin beat into “Théogène Creole,” with the flat-picked acoustic guitar, accordion and fiddle each taking a spin in the spotlight. The group also works its magic on Bobby Charles’ “I Spent All My Money Loving You,” retaining the song’s original Memphis soul with drums and organ, but adding Cajun flavors with accordion and a French translation of the verses. J.J. Cale’s skiffle-blues “The Problem” gets a more straight-up treatment, with the original’s shuffle beat emphasized in all of the instruments. Cale’s lyrics of empty-headed leaders and passive followers was a potent indictment of Bush’s failed administration, and remains a stirring call-to-arms. Amédé Ardoin’s classic “Valse á Thomas Ardoin” offers a last call from the accordion and a fitting close to BeauSoleil’s Cajun prom. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]

MP3 | Little Darlin’
BeauSoleil’s Home Page
BeauSoleil’s Yep Roc Page