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November 20, 2007

CD Reviews:11/21

Mighty HighGov’t Mule(ATO)Jamband fans treat the musicians’ experiments much like parents go to the neighborhood park and indulge their children’s imagination. Mom and Dad are proud that little Johnny hollers real sailing commands to the crew of his pretend pirate ship — and they laugh as he imitates Captain Jack Sparrow.Gov’t Mule fans will similarly offer patience and get a measure of reward from these reggae and dub interpretations. Guests include Toots Hibbard gruffly banking the hot coals of “Hard to Handle.” His workmanlike approach blends naturally with Warren Haynes’ bandleading. Michael Franti opts instead to play the role of a hyper shout-out machine during “Play with Fire.”Robbie Robertson’s “The Shape I’m In” is a meandering success because you don’t hear a rock band attempting reggae. The quartet (plus trumpet) play convincingly like they’re already a reggae band now taking on a whole lotta classic rock. Best here is Al Green’s “I’m a Ram” — nearly eight amazing, powerhouse minutes that end way too quick. The spacey sonic-labwork on the dub tracks, in contrast, occasionally overstays its welcome. —T.E. LyonsTake NoteAmber Adair(SELF-RELEASED)Louisville’s Amber Adair has achieved an intriguing blend of acoustic pop, beats and moody electronica on Take Note. Backed by a cast of capable musicians (and aided by some excellent production), Adair whispers and chants her way through a set of provocative tracks that showcase her gorgeous voice and swaggering lyrical style.Adair insists in one song (“Sanity”) that she’s a tease, giggling playfully the whole time like some modern rock diva, then digs deeply and painfully into an emotionally devastating relationship (“Neither Can You”) the next.As the gentle instrumentation and her steamy vocals pull you along, you are compelled to fall into her world (especially on the seductive “Burnin’ Up”). It’s Adair’s emotional honesty — even when she’s being naughty — that keeps you there. The only criticism is that, take away a short intro and outro, there are only six fully fleshed-out songs. But the promise these songs carry is quite enticing — in more ways than one. —Kevin GibsonLove’s MiracleQui(IPECAC)What to say about the return of David Yow? The legendary-in-small-circles singer (you all remember Scratch Acid and Jesus Lizard, right?) has joined forces with Paul Christensen and Matt Cronk to form Qui (pronounced Qwee — bad move, really).Love’s Miracle, their full-length debut on Mike Patton’s Ipecac Records, is an occasionally, but not often, interesting mix of punk, noise, metal and experimental drone. I think this is one for the aging hipsters. I heard music like this in the late ’80s and, to be honest, I didn’t like it then, don’t like it now.  However, for those missing the dissonant days of yore, Love’s Miracle might be just the ticket back to days of dark, smoky concrete clubs with head-pounding, ear-splitting chunky guitar spraying madness. I could feel my face scowling as the record progressed, and now I feel like I’ve regressed to being a sullen teenager, so I’ll bid you adieu because I need to go out and kick things or yell at people or something.  For an angry time, call 1-800-David-Yow. —L. ParkHope for MenPissed Jeans(SUB POP)Overheard at a Pissed Jeans gig:    “My mom thinks that me and my boyfriend Tony are having sex, which we completely are. And when I turn 18, we’re getting married. Tony’s not the first guy I’ve been with. That was Omar, this total skank counselor I had last summer at Camp Okeechobee. I didn’t really want to screw Omar, I just wanted to do it with somebody, and he promised to buy me a 4-track. What a liar. He didn’t buy me anything, he just laughed at me. That’s why I had my friend Jessica key his car while I was screwing him the second time. What a loser.    “I need a 4-track so bad! My band, Abortion Barbie, needs to make a demo and get the fuck out of here! This town is so dead! Thank God for Spencer, my meth dealer. He thinks he’s all from the hood. He’s a douche bag, but he gets the best drugs. He wants to screw me. Gross.” —Peter BerkowitzSecond SightCorinne West(MAKE)This second album from California-born songwriter Corinne West is a pastiche of Americana, encompassing country, folk and bluegrass sounds in a refreshing, contemporary mix. Although she holds old country close to her heart, Second Sight is not a nostalgia trip. The opening title track is a joyous and upbeat bouncer with jumpy mandolin and banjo-picking alongside the a more ethereal vocal style. “Hell Yes” is a catchy little number that harkens back to the days of old Appalachia and names like Loretta Lynn or the Carters, even. Clearly, West knows her music. “Hand Full of Gold,” my personal favorite, is a lovely old-timey ballad that showcases West’s rich, emotive voice, while “Gandy Dancer” is a rollicking gem that details the struggles of railyard workers with crazy banjo picking and a fearsome tempo. “Lost And Found” is another timeless track and illustrates the seamless blending of classic country and folk that West is so adept at. But the real star of this 11-song collection is her voice, which rains down sweet emotion through each of these songs, each one individual and uniquely personal. I’m certainly impressed. —Todd ZachritzThe Broken StringBishop Allen(DEAD OCEANS)It would have been easy, and perhaps understandable, for Bishop Allen, fresh off a restless year of recording and touring, to toss together a few favorites and make their next album a greatest hits of their already impressive 12-EP project. But they didn't. While nine of The Broken String’s 11 tracks appeared in one form or another on last year’s releases, the tracks here sound richer and more fully realized than earlier incarnations. On top of that, everything ties together nicely. The acoustic twang of “Shrinking Violet” fades effortlessly into a reworked “Corazon,” complete with upbeat keyboards and a bass line that struts right through the usually dominant percussion. “Middle Management” starts out rocking, then swells until it collapses on itself, leaving the more introspective and subdued “Choose Again.” Justin Rice’s voice still quivers throughout like it’s scared of all the jangling and banging that surrounds it. The end result is something at once thoughtful and flippant, composed and frivolous. —Justin KeenanMunki BrainThe Queers(ASIAN MAN)My momma always taught me that if it doesn’t appear to be causing any harm, regardless of the sheer silliness and utterly confused appearances, it’s better to leave it be.    Though they are generously credited with causing the evolution of the hip-happy, pop-punk era, does that justify continuing? Isn’t there a time where you just gotta pick a side and get off the fence? That being said, maybe a fall in the grass either way wouldn’t exactly indicate a greener state for this crew.    Where to begin … okay, album title: Munki Brain … from the dinner scene in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”? Maybe these guys aren’t entirely oblivious after all. But, come back to basics with “I Think She’s Starting To Like Me,” “Girl About Town” and “Houston, We Have A Problem.” We certainly have a problem here.    It’s a toss up. Is this album entertaining? Are they actually laughing at themselves along with us? Is someone out there heckling me because I fail to see beauty or talent within? Oh well. Teenage flicks need soundtracks and artists to make them. There may be hope after all. —Michelle MankerMatt NathansonSome Mad HopeVanguardI’m listening to this album, and enjoying it fully, mind you, but I keep thinking to myself that I know I’ve heard this somewhere before. I’ll confess to being old and rattled and suffering the frustrations that are coupled with but figuring this one out has been killing me. I’ve decided to concede to the reality that in actuality, I haven’t heard it before at all but I’ve heard so many others just like it that, well, what does that mean? He seriously reminds me of that guy sitting on the bench with a flower in his hand and an impetuous grin on his face yearning to Eros for fulfillment.Heartbreak World, Still and Falling Apart are particularly fetching while maintaining the “come hither and love me” theme which ebbs and flows throughout. However, title track Car Crash contains proper distinction to set itself apart as the unquestionable highlight of the album. He is still conveying from a place of deep personal agitation but the exhilaration and stray from collegiate-pansy rock is both refreshing and a relief.This album would be pleasant to hear while daydreaming through a sun-strewn window when one should be cleaning the house. -MMMatt DuskBack In TownDecca RecordsMy music editor is a very intelligent man. He knows this woman well enough to know she is a pure sucker for that genre known to many as lounge music. The gentle weeping seduction of the saxophone trading lead with sultry jazz vocals, all which elude to romance and champagne-filled nights and of course, eyelash-batting love.Whereas I will always wonder what turns those who choose to go down the traditional path led so amazingly by Frank, Tony and Dean in their day and whereas I feel the shoes of those may be damn near impossible to ever entirely fill, it doesn’t fail to be a good thing that those who have did indeed choose this path (or perhaps it chose them?).This particular album is of course a mix of originals and songs we all know by heart with Get Me To The Church On Time and As Time Goes By being personal favorites. Title track Back In Town is the only track which Dusk was a contributing composer and it genuinely bursts off the disc with toe-tapping and hip-swaying pizzazz making me want a vodka martini straight up (while wearing a sequined cocktail dress). Cheers! -MMDistinctive DesignLiecus(NON-APPLICABLE RECORDS)You know what sucks? Nickelback.You know what sucks worse than Nickelback?Bands that aspire to sound like Nickelback.After you get past the two-song thrashfest that kicks off Distinctive Design, you’ll hear a pleasant strumming sound, which you’ll think is the beginning of a quieter song, perhaps a rock ballad. You are wrong. It’s more thrashing sounds, which continue for the next three songs, rounding off a below-average, alternative rock, top-40 EP.I should cut Liecus a break. To its credit, the band does sound like an even crappier version of Lamb of God, Slipknot and System of a Down. In their home state of West Virginia, Creed is probably still cutting edge.Save yourself while you still can, and run away screaming from Distinctive Design. —Kirsten SchofieldI Was Born In LouisianaHarmonica Red and the New Heard(PAID)I’ll beg forgiveness in advance but I must say it – just like Harry Potter who did not choose the wand but instead the wand chose him, such must also be the case with George R. Heard.The Lee Oskar harmonica has clearly chosen Heard and he has bowed and surrendered beyond any sublime expectation. Performing all lead vocals throughout this album, breaking only to use his breath alternately in the awe-inspiring capacity of multiple diatonic harmonicas, 2-3 at a time, Heard and his crew bequeath to their substantial following and those of us who are new to their scene as well an agglomeration of some downright fine stuff.There can’t be much that could top belonging to a musical genre titled Cajun swamp rock, unless it’s being physically present at one of its shows. I’ve seen my share of Cajun music shows, and although I have yet to have the honor of being indoctrinated to the teachings of Harmonica Red, I feel the surge up my spine upon simply listening to the CD, at high volume, of course. “I Got Happiness” could be the consummate highlight of the whole thing. —Michelle Manker TrampolineSteel Train(DRIVE-THRU) This is a transition record that doesn’t hit you over the head with the fact that it’s a transition record. New Jersey’s Steel Train lost two members, leaving Jack Antonoff to write the bulk of Trampoline by himself. On one hand, that tactic makes albums sound more like one succinct, cohesive work, or it comes off as one person’s vision dominating everyone else’s. Neither is a bad way to go, provided the songs are strong enough. Antonoff command over the Train’s creative process is evident on “Alone in the Sea,” the Sept. 11 interpretations of “I Feel Weird,” the Simon & Garfunkel romp of “Firecracker,” and the destructive atonal climax of “A Magazine.” The Train isn’t letting lineup changes kill its inspirational, celebratory pop, proving that bands should be as driven by style driven as they are by characters. —Mat Herron Hera Ma NonoExtra Golden(THRILL JOCKEY)If you’re not familiar with Kenyan benga music, chances are you’ll find it a) repetitive, like a jam band that can’t let go of a specific riff and ends up driving it into the ground, or b) superficial, as if it’s the soundtrack to a Bacardi commercial, where rich tourists sip rum while watching waves lap against the shore.    Listen past these cultural affectations. With lyrics in both Luo and English, Hera Ma Nono (which means “love in vain”) is steeped in rich history, tight musicianship and controlled, classic east-African rhythms. “Night Runners” has an urgent funkiness, while “Obama,” EG’s ode to the presidential candidate who is Kenyan, adds levity to politics despite its blatant endorsement. —Mat Herron