Shadows in the Cave
Folkies Multiply in a Time When So Many Are Singer-Songwriters and
So Few Admit It
MAHMOUD AHMED: Almaz (Buda Musique import)
Full-voiced and emotional, the strong Middle Eastern cast of his
delivery evoking soul shout as well, Ahmed is the biggest singing star
Ethiopia has produced, a young comer who negotiated the insane
political particularities of his ancient land to become a respected
pro. These muscular early recordings from 1972 or so, a/k/a
Éthiopiques 6, sound rougher but no less fevered and distinct
than the circa-1975 stuff collected on his certified classic Ere
Mela Mela. On both I love the sour two-man sax sections and
crudely insistent rhythms. On both I wish I knew what he was trying to
tell his world.
AMY ALLISON: No Frills Friend (Diesel Only)
The Maudlin Years? Sad Girl? Here's where she gets
really bereft. After declaring abject loneliness in the title
tune--"If you want to take a walk downtown/I'd be happy just to move
my legs around/We don't have to say a word, but then again/We could
just make comments now and then"--she makes a principle of dashing her
own hopes, song by song. The wanly jubilant "Baby, You're the One"
leads directly to "What will we do when the money runs out?" "Don't
String Me Along" generates "Say It Isn't So." "Dreaming's Killing Me,"
she knows it, only then it's "Thank God for the wine/That made me lose
my mind" and also "loosened up his tongue." The finale is a love duet
with her producer in which she proposes they "leave the world behind."
It'll never work out.
THE BLUE SERIES CONTINUUM: GoodandEvil Sessions (Thirsty Ear)
Jazz musicians so often try and fail to modernize their rhythms that I
wondered what the secret of the latest Matthew Shipp-William Parker
collaboration might be. Clever devils--no drummer. All beats
electronic, generated by Brooklyn production duo Danny Blume and Chris
Kelly, who relax into cunning patterns that leave room for Parker to
bend his bass toward an equivalent of the reassuring body groove that
jazz folk associate with swing. Only this groove doesn't swing--it's
more like techno that realized acid jazz was garbage and went back
home to mama. Shipp riffs, hooks, and decorates, leaving theme and
cognitively dissonant variation to name trumpeter Roy Campbell and two
trombonists, who have most of the fun. Not deep, not intense. But for
atmosphere, it hangs on there, and it keeps growing on you.
KIMYA DAWSON: My Cute Fiend Sweet Princess (Important)
Mommy and Daddy, your baby is grown," she overtaxes her child-soprano
to proclaim at the end of the first song. "This isn't a come-on, but
come on, let's face it/The come on your face is really just
mayonnaise," she singsongs flatly in the hooked-on-phonics
second. "The air is filled with computers and carpets/Skin and bones
and telephones and file cabinets," she whispers dreamily in the
anthrax-nightmare fifth. There's a song about small-town hell and a
song about alcoholic hell and a song about how cool it is not wanting
to be cool, and then the invention wears down a bit. I note
disdainfully that her first CDR-gone-legit had better homemade music
and no one noticed, I warn that the simultaneously released
Knock-Knock Who? is as insular as boors will think this one is,
I insist that these are major songs, and I hope she's just getting
THE KLEZMATICS: Rise Up!/Shteyt Oyf! (Rounder)
Their first true album in six years would have arrived in 2002 if the
release date had survived whatever squabbles delayed it. But with only
violinist Alicia Svigals gone her own way, blame the mood shift on
history rather than personality--lots of slow ones to go with lots of
grief. Leaning on the mournful Eastern European modalities the shtetl
assimilated long ago--check especially the Matt Darriau threnody and
Frank London prayer--the Klezmatics conjure an album as soaked in 9/11
as The Rising, whose similar title is no coincidence. But this
doesn't mean they jettison the jazz passages and upful wedding
tunes. The marriage of heaven and hell, Blake called it.
THE ROUGH GUIDE TO SOUTH AFRICAN GOSPEL (World Music Network import)
The competing Gospel According to Earthworks is softer and
slicker, with six pieces by two well-groomed Joseph Dumako groups who
get the two they deserve on a 22-track mosaic replete with weird
mbube, rough jive, one-shots the annotator can barely account for, and
joyful affirmations of a belief system that's done black South
Africans almost as much good as the union movement and considerably
more bad. Praise God you can't understand the words.
JAMES BLOOD ULMER: No Escape From the Blues (Hyena)
Vernon Reid's first bid to turn Ulmer into the ranking 21st-century
bluesman mined Memphis and claimed classics. Phase two knows New York
and articulates arcana. Whether it's Reid's banjo cakewalking away
with the obscure "Goin' to New York" or the tap solo and Olu Dara
cameo that break up the famed "Bright Lights, Big City," production
and selection strive to outdo each other, and not just on Jimmy Reed
songs. Also, Ulmer takes some hellacious solos. That's how he got
LOUDON WAINWRIGHT III: So Damn Happy (Sanctuary)
His 1993 Career Moves did the live folkie best-of as right as
it's ever been done. A decade on he's more half-assed--men's-lib lite
from History, redundant third "Westchester County," nothing off
2001's Last Man on Earth because his label changed (again). But
with a couple of exceptions the songs were strong to start and improve
in context, and there are five (out of 17) new ones--every one a
winner, three played for laughs if you count "Something for Nothing,"
which is about file-sharing. Know what? The old fart's against it,
although he's too sarcastic to come out and say so straight. Know what
else? He may convince you. This is a man who's been making mincemeat
out of hippie muscleheads since Timothy Leary was a visionary.
WARREN ZEVON: The Wind (Artemis)
Naturally he fends off death-the-fact the way he fended off
death-the-theme--with black humor. "I'm looking for a woman with low
self-esteem" is how he sums up the succor he craves, and he finishes
off a painful "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" with impatient cries of
"Open up, open up, open up." But "El Amor de Mi Vida," "She's Too Good
for Me," "Please Stay," and "Keep Me in Your Heart" mean what their
titles say. Only by hearing them can you grasp their tenderness, or
understand that the absolute Spanish one seems to be for the wife he
left behind, or muse that while the finale addresses his current
succor provider, it also reaches out to the rest of us. Everyone who
says this isn't a sentimental record is right. But it admits
sentiment, hold the hygiene, and suggests that he knows more about
love dying than he did when he was immortal.
Dud of the Month
MY MORNING JACKET: It Still Moves (ATO)
It's touching to watch the latest indie-rock generation flail around
in search of a form, spouting sincerely all the while. But it's also
depressing. Like the emo guys, Louisville's Neil-ish Jim James has the
advantage of normal feelings and ambition--he's not content to remain
subcultural. He claims his Dave Matthews-sponsored major- label debut
was his chance to make a true band record, and I guess his boys are
trickier than Crazy Horse, just not in any way you haven't heard
before. Then there's his filtered drawl, his straitened tune sense,
his lyrics you feel cheated straining for, his 12 songs in 72
minutes. For what? For the horrible Memphis Horns coda of "Easy
Morning Rebel," plodding on funklessly for two minutes after the vocal
has gone the way of all reverb?
Additional Consumer News
- Neil Young & Crazy Horse: Greendale (Reprise):
His politics have never been clearer, but they have been terser
("Leave the Driving," "Devil's Sidewalk").
- Rodney Crowell: Fate's Right Hand (DMX/Epic):
Commercial instincts undimmed, he does Americana AC confessionally,
thinking hard all the while ("Earthbound," "Preachin' to the Choir").
- Yerba Buena: President Alien (Razor & Tie):
The whole Nuyolatino empanada ("Guajira," "Tu Casa, Mi Casa").
- Shesus: Loves You . . . Loves You Not (Narnack):
Femmenoizetoonfrom Ohio--less surprising than prime Breeders, every
bit as catchy ("Holidazed," "B-Side Radio").
- The Bangles: Doll Revolution (Koch): Their name was
always the cheapest thing about them, and finally they write the
respectable songs to prove it ("Single by Choice," "Song for a Good
- Hoosier Hotshots: The Definitive Hoosier Hotshots
Collection (Collectors' Choice): Runs on half a dozen
Columbia/Legacy classics, way long on covers, instrumentals, and wife
jokes ("She Was a Washout in the Blackout," "Them Hill-Billies Is
Sweet Williams Now").
- Bad Boys II (Bad Boy): Bodyguards or producers, Sean
Combs hires the best (P. Diddy, Lenny Kravitz, Pharrell Williams,
Loon, "Show Me Your Soul"; Jay-Z, "La-La-La").
- Hamell on Trial: Tough Love (Righteous Babe): Say
this for near-death experiences--they tune up the sensitivities
("Don't Kill," "Downs").
- Ralph Carney: This Is! Ralph Carney (Black Beauty):
A Buckeye Hornman--not quite as funny as a Hoosier Hotshot, but
sweeter ("Turkey Neck," "Jug Gland Music").
- Jeffrey Lewis: It's the Ones Who've Cracked That the Light
Shines Through (Rough Trade): Doubles as a cartoonist, where
it's harder to cram so many words in ("Don't Let the Record Company
Take You Out to Lunch," "You Don't Have to Be a Scientist to Do
Experiments on Your Own Heart").
- Marshall Crenshaw: What's in the Bag? (Razor &
Tie): Worked-over meditations on the persistence of romance ("Will We
Ever?," "Where Homes Used to Be").
- The Neptunes Present . . . Clones (Star Trak): It
takes more than groovemastery to make a hodgepodge flow (Dirt McGirt,
"Pop Sh*t"; Kelis, "Popular Thug").
- Led Zeppelin: How the West Was Won (Atlantic): Solid
live versions, curious guitar extravaganza, dire drum solo, ace covers
("Bring It On Home," "Whole Lotta Love").
- Grandaddy: Sumday (V2): Here's the clue you're not
facin', the robot is Jason ("The Group Who Couldn't Say," "Stray Dog
and the Chocolate Shake").
- Rainer Maria: Long Knives Drawn (Polyvinyl): She
learns to sing love-songs-with-backup and indie boys think she's
regressed (even though she's still pretentious!) ("Ears Ring," "The
Awful Truth of Loving").
- Tricky: Vulnerable (Sanctuary): Obscure Italian
chanteuse finds producer of dreams ("Moody," "Search and Destroy").
- Nada Surf: Let Go (Barsuk): Right, they do Coldplay
better than they did Weezer ("Inside of Love," "Blizzard of '77").
- Kimya Dawson, "I'm Fine," "For Boxer" (Knock-Knock
- Chris Smither, "Let It Go" (Train Home,
- Josh Joplin Group, "Dishes" (The Future That
- Josh Rouse, "Flight Attendant" (1972, Ryko)
- Chingy, "Chingy Jackpot" (Jackpot, Capitol)
- Josh Ritter, "You Don't Make It Easy Babe" (Hello
Starling, Signature Sounds)
- Thomas Anderson, "Gypsy Magdalena" (Norman,
Oklahoma, Red River)
- Joan Armatrading, Lovers Speak (Denon)
- Guy Davis, Chocolate to the Bone (Red House)
- Jay Farrar, Terroir Blues (Act/Resist)
- Josh Kelley, For the Ride Home (Hollywood)
- Living Things, Turn In Your Friends and
- Snoop Dogg, Paid Tha Cost to Be Da Boss
- Don White, Live in Michigan (Don White)
Village Voice, Sept. 16, 2003
||Aug. 5, 2003
||Oct. 28, 2003