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March 1, 2007

Music Reviews

Dirty WomenThe Glasspack(SMALL STONE)<bitchin’>    “Dirty” Dave Johnson likes his albums fast, loose and dirty, like the women who stalk truckers in the parking lots that he sings about on “Lot Lizard.” Glasspack’s newest album finds Johnson strutting being as musical (“Farewell Little Girl”) as he is raw and unapologetic (“My Curse”). He ropes in Matt Jaha for epic “Louisiana Strawberry” and freakish fret festival “Ice Cream, But No Reply” for an analog production that smokes from beginning to end. —Mat HerronSex ChangeTrans Am(THRILL JOCKEY)<strategic>    Track three is titled “Obscene Strategies,” and it epitomizes the technique Trans Am employed in recording Sex Change. In particular, it makes use of strategy 18, which, according to the Thrill Jockey Web site, is to “rip off black musicians.” “Obscene Strategies” is groovy, danceable stuff, but the concept by the same name, a knockoff of Brian Eno’s “Oblique Strategies,” is hard to take seriously. At least it gives some explanation to this strange series of surprisingly happy tunes — tunes that even feature clean vocals, like on “North East Rising Sun.” Said track must be victim to strategy 31, “Hose down the control room,” because it’s relatively sterile in a refreshing kind of way. I’m not sure that any of the songs sound like Jackson Browne (No. 16), but the pillow-fight strategy (No. 43) can be heard in the abrupt transition from innocent to a little wilder one minute into “Triangular Pyramid.” —Jessica FarquharDead ChildDead Child(COLD SWEAT)<furious>    Dead Child’s heart beats with the fury of long-ago metal and thrash when metal and thrash were as much about composition as they were theatrics.    These five songs surge underneath Dahm’s terrifically smooth vocals that call to mind early Judas Priest. Tony Bailey punishes his kit (“Never Bet The Devil Your Head”), and Todd Cook proves yet again he can play in anyone’s rhythm section, anytime, anywhere (“Curse of a Legend”).    Michael McMahan and Dave Pajo cut out a page or two from Kill ’Em All and hold down a steady, satisfying dirge on “I Will Live Again,” but the guitars stay grounded in heavy minimalism. Can’t wait for a full-length. —Mat HerronFear of TigersAyin(ENGINEER)<octopus>    Ayin’s tentacles slither into so many subgenres of post-punk that Fear of Tigers exhibits symptoms of a multiple-personality disorder. Maybe that’s exactly what the band had in mind. Its instrumentation doesn’t create a specific sound so much as it jolts, then soothes, then assaults, often within a single measure.    All this serves as a dizzying infrastructure for Shane Simms, whose vocals go from scream-singing (think mid-’90s Richmond, Va., crust punk) to mid-’80s Brit-pop without flinching.    The upside of Fear is that once the band stops throwing itself in hundreds of directions (see “Parallels”), it hangs with the best of them, and Chris Owens’ excellent production reflects that. —Mat HerronThe West Was BurningMartha Scanlan(SUGAR HILL)<echoes>    As the Holy Trinity of female icons of Americana — the candid Lucinda, the ethereal Emmylou and the charming Nanci — continue to make ambitious and honest works of art, their effect is felt in a newer generation of artists: Mindy Smith, Kathleen Edwards, Sarah Harmer and now Martha Scanlan.    Scanlan’s voice most distinctly echoes that of Griffith, who can drift between a haunting flutter and a grittier cadence. Her songs are hearty as they all clock in around four or five minutes. There are moments where she lets her bluegrass side rise to the surface, like on the danceable instrumental “Call Me Shorty.” Yet, most of the tracks prey on the tried-and-true influences of folk: the gospel closing track “Ten Thousand Charms” and the natural imagery of “Up on the Divide.” Yet, it’s the Dylan cover “Went to See the Gypsy” with The Band’s Levon Helm keeping apace on the drums, that cements Scanlan’s ability to walk so adeptly that fine line that her predecessors — including Helm’s Woodstock, N.Y., cohorts — did so well. —Patrick MulloyLike, Love, Lust, and the Open Halls of the SoulJesse Sykes & the Sweet Hereafter(BARSUK)<J.R.R.>    There’s something very Tolkien about Like, Love, Lust & the Open Halls of the Soul. Even when Sykes is dealing with fairly normal concepts, like love and trust, I can’t help but imagine her wearing oversized, druidic robes, blessing berserkers on their way to bloodbaths and book-burnings.    When she actually sings, her voice is beautiful and commanding, as on “You Might Walk Away.” But on most of the album, she sings in a caricatured voice, a messy mix of a not-quite-so-worn-out Janis Joplin and a guttural Willie Nelson. The album overall is relatively pleasing to the ear, but there’s an undercurrent of awkwardness, something you feel immediately but can’t articulate. It’s like watching a psychedelic color wheel on a black-and-white television: You know there’s more to color than these shades of gray, so you keep spinning the wheel, waiting indefinitely for a brown, or a green, or even a little blue. —Danny SlatonSlidin’ Home John Starling and Carolina Star(REBEL)<masterful>    Carolina Star, the newest incarnation of a musical partnership more than 30 years old, finds John Starling (guitar, vocals), Mike Auldridge (dobro, vocals) and Tom Gray (bass vocals) playing together. Putting their years of musical experience to good use, the trio demonstrates its mastery of traditional bluegrass, country and ragtime. This newest offering wraps itself around you like a grandmotherly hug, and it is easy to see why they’ve achieved such great success.    Whether singing a challenge to corporate greed or presenting an instrumental mandolin and fiddle duo by Rickie Simpkins and Jimmy Gaudreau, powerful instrumentation and lyrics demonstrate the group’s excellence. The whole of the album is a standout achievement. Including a magical song composed by Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris — who also provides haunting harmony vocals — as well as traditional ballads and feel-good rhythms, Slidin’ Home is certain to inspire existing fans of this talented collection of musicians and attract new admirers. —David SalvoA Static LullabyA Static Lullaby(FEARLESS)<wrong>    Although this is its third album, A Static Lullaby sounds very much like everyone’s high school band.    By high school band, I don’t mean the one you had when you were about to graduate, with a couple of years of guitar lessons under your spiked belt. I mean the one you had freshman year.     This album is run-of-the-mill, horrendous screamo. One look at their MySpace page (midnight black and blood red, of course) should indicate everything else that is wrong with this situation. This is offensive to my ears and to my black, black soul. —Kirsten SchofieldPrayer of DeathEntrance(TEE PEE)<relax>    Young, middle-class whites have been taking the music of their darker-skinned favorites and selling it back to other young, middle-class whites for many years. From Led Zeppelin to the White Stripes, we keep falling for it. This week, they call themselves Entrance.    Prayer of Death tries too hard to utilize the heavy sounds of Led Zeppelin without repeating the cliches that have ruined many metal bands. From Zeppelin, Entrance (primarily singer-songwriter Guy Blakeslee) also derive third-hand inspiration from authentic, exotic music such as Indian ragas. Indeed, songs like “Requiem for Sandy Bull (R.I.P.)” seem to exist primarily to prove how awesome his obscure record collection is.    Blakeslee’s reluctance to just sing — without cracking his voice to prove how “real” he is — is unfortunate. The most captivating song on this record, the title song, works exceedingly well when he’s singing but less so when he’s wavering. Someone should tell dude that we’re not going to believe he’s an 82-year-old sharecropper, so maybe just relax and play it right. —Peter Berkowitz