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December 4, 2007

CD Reviews 12-05-07

Dirt FarmerLevon Helm(VANGUARD)Sick of the praise lavished on this? Then stop reading now.    Helm’s return is a testament to human will. The fact that he’s even singing again is astonishing, because throat cancer almost silenced him forever.    Those dire straits are the stuff of prologue now, and while Dirt Farmer is littered with references to The Band drummer’s bare-knuckled fistfight with death (“Calvary”), they don’t wallow in depression’s dark, lonely dungeon. “Feelin’ Good” and “Got Me a Woman” reinforce the notion that Southern boys know how to relax that stiff upper lip, strap on a guitar and kick back.On “Wide River to Cross,” Helm tells us, in that distinctive Arkansas drawl, that he is far from finished living. “There’s still a race ahead that I must run.” We should be so fortunate to see him still running it, for however long he remains on this Earth. —Mat HerronThe Shade of Poison TreesDashboard Confessional(VAGRANT)You’re moving way too fast, boys. Your songs from last year’s sultry Dusk & Summer still linger on VH1. Rest up. Hang out at the beach. But please, never rush an album like this again before it’s ready. You recorded The Shade of Poison Trees in 10 days. Why? The 12 songs here are half-baked and hasty (with the exception, perhaps, of the title track). It makes me feel like I’m stuck in traffic and 10 minutes late. I’m never late. Where are the swelling strings and chords? The building climaxes and soothing whispers? The lovely lyrics and mellow mechanics? It’s almost like you’ve taken a step back in time. If I didn’t know any better, I woulda guessed this was your demo. Seriously. —Sara HavensVarious ArtistsLouisville Babylon 2(LOUISVILLE IS FOR LOVERS)In high school in Florida in the 1990s, my (few) friends and I had what we thought was a secret love — the comically over-the-top, doo-wop-inflected horror punk of a band from New Jersey who had broken up before they got too boring or, worse, popular. What we didn’t know then, in those awkward days between the fall of Communism and the mainstreaming of the Internet, was that the Misfits was a secret shared by kids everywhere.Up in Louisville, a 1994 Misfits tribute was lovingly compiled, and now, 13 years later, the new generation is at it. The new versions of old favorites range from hillbilly to goth synths to preppy pop. While it's interesting to hear My Morning Jacket reduced to a too-referential copycat, the collection peaks when Ronnie Mack and Ponty’s Camper put some Kentucky on ’em, and Dave Pajo and Wax Fang slow ’em down like 30-somethings should. —Peter BerkowitzMy Foolish HeartKeith Jarrett(ECM)Keith Jarrett's best work is with his Standards Trio, with bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette — though it probably wouldn’t be hard to get an argument favoring his solo concert discs. And his best Standards Trio disc may be My Foolish Heart.What lifts My Foolish Heart above the rest is wonderful songs, combined with an upbeat vibe and a sense that the trio went out that night in Montreux with something to prove.In his liner notes, Jarret complains about the concert conditions (heat, lighting, sound problems); but he and the trio went out and laid down transcendent performances, charged up by the adversity, and the desire to, as described in My Foolish Heart’s liner notes, “... grab the audience by the throat and shake them into hearing what we were doing.”They heard. They heard the Trio at its most vibrant, grabbing them by the collective throat with the ebullient Miles Davis-penned opener, “Four,” to an urgent take on the Sonny Rollins jewel “Oleo.”The surprise of the package is the inclusion of a couple of Fats Waller tunes, “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and “Honeysuckle Rose,” along with the Rodgers/Hart classic, “You Took Advantage of Me,” in the style, showcasing a rare stride side of the Jarrett/Peacock/DeJohnette team, with DeJohnette delivering a brief, bustling, Krupa-esque roll-and-tumble drum solo on “Honeysuckle.”With these two discs, at an hour and 48 minutes of music, the Standards Trio in a particularly inspired mood. Yep, it’s their best. —Mark BaconGram Parsons Archives Vol. 1Gram Parsons & The Flying Burrito Brothers(AMOEBA)While many apocryphal recordings are “lost” for reasons related to quality, this double-disc release is not among that class. Legendary sound wizard (and acid guru) Owsley Stanley recorded these Avalon Ballroom performances over the course of two nights in April 1969, and they have remained, as the liner notes explain in detail, in the Grateful Dead vaults ever since.Hearing the FBB in action right after Gilded Palace of Sin hit stores is a slightly transcendental experience. Both discs feature similar set-lists of originals and well-chosen covers, yet each is devastatingly beautiful in its own way. Particularly striking throughout is the vocal interplay between Chris Hillman and GP.In addition to the concert cuts, a sparse pair of Parsons demos has been included as filler. If you are not weeping by the end of “$1,000 Wedding,” you might want to get your ears checked.Perhaps the unreleased archives are not the best starting point for those unfamiliar with Parsons’ legacy. Still, it is hard to imagine anyone feeling disappointed by this soulful snapshot. —Kevin M. WilsonRevivalJohn Fogerty(FANTASY)Nearly 40 years ago, John Fogerty wrote tons of classic radio hits that endure, but his post-CCR life was marred by legal bullshit and related bitterness. Fogerty emerged from the funk more than a decade ago when he finally began performing Creedence songs in concert (as he did again this week in Louisville), but his recorded output over the past couple decades remained a mixed bag — not bad, but his avoidance of his bread and butter were frustrating.That’s all moot on Revival, where he goes straight to the well with fabulous results. Here is the Fogerty of old — breezy melodies, clean, stinging guitar, chugging swamp guitar and that singular tenor that only belongs to him. It sounds as fresh today as ever, and it comes with a nice (wink) dose of self-deprecation to boot.    Not to put too fine a point on it, but it’s cool to see the guy persevere and then reinitiate a love affair with his life and art. Think about that the next time you’re about to puke over some no-talent hack with a great PR machine. —Cary Stemle WolvesIdiot Pilot(REPRISE)In completing the post-hardcore-meets-electronica attack of Wolves, Idiot Pilot duo Daniel Anderson and Chris Harris enlisted Korm producer Ross Robinson, known for agitating his acts in the studio, and Mark Hoppus, known for streaking down streets in Blink-182 videos.    Wolves contains a mix of both their influences, from straight-ahead hardcore, light-as-air piano and dub-punk beats. Vocally, Pilot borrows a page out of Thom Yorke’s book and there are occasional, disruptive screamo parts tossed into “In Record Shape” and “Red Museum.” These 19-year-olds should grow out of that once they realize screamo as a genre has a low ceiling. —Mat Herron    Rough Guides: Salsa Clandestina, Latino Nuevo, Latin FunkVarious Artists(WORLD MUSIC NETWORK)I tend to anticipate the new crop of World Music Library’s Rough Guides with the same enthusiasm I anticipate the ripening of blood oranges. Unlike blood oranges, the Rough Guide series discs seldom taste like fruity toothpaste when unripe.Sweet Jesus, the latest batch is no exception. These three selections focus on contemporary Latin music with an emphasis on danceable, modern, urban style. Thematically, they don’t stray too far apart, and there’s significant crossover in the artists included. Ozomatli, Bakú, and the Spam Allstars provide common ground.All the material is pretty consistent and accessible without sounding too commercial, so choosing a favorite is tough. Choice pretty much boils down to geography. If I had to throw a dart, I’d aim for “Latin Funk” because I happen to be partial to Joe Bataan and Up, Bustle and Out.¡Que Chevere! —Michael Steiger