September 10, 2008

Music Reviews

Old Wounds

Young Widows

(TEMPORARY RESIDENCE)

<3-headed monster>

Old Wounds is only the second album from Louisville three-piece Young Widows, but this incredibly well-produced, well-written record makes them sound like they’ve been together for years. Young Widows are about as close to metal as you can get without being metal, but this album shows them wearing more hats than before.

Rooted but not buried in late ’90s hardcore bands like Refused and indie darlings like Hoover, Young Widows exhibit a wide range of influences on Old Wounds, drawing upon metal, punk and even a deviant kind of blues (“The Guitar”). Parts will make you feel like you’re listening to Desert Sessions or early Queens of the Stone Age, but others just can’t be compared with anything. Brooding basslines and soaring guitar riffs are ubiquitous, but unique syncopation — like what’s at the end of “Took A Turn” — is standout. 

“21st Century Invention” tries to replicate the atmosphere of the Widows’ live show (much of the material here comes from the live setting), while exhibiting a catchy, punk-inspired chorus. Singers Evan Patterson and Nick Thieneman belt out the lyrics with enough angst to make you dance and punch a wall at the same time. The Widows get complacent at some points (the monotonous “Feelers”), but, for the most part, bravo. —Aaron Frank


Gettin’ It

Bo Bo Hazel

(SELF-RELEASED)

<kerplunk>

I remember when I was little, I think it was my aunt who gave me this magnet set of Shakespearean insults. It was filled with a couple hundred different “old-timey” words and phrases, and you could rearrange them into more obscene taunts on your refrigerator or locker.

Listening to this EP, I think someone’s put out a “Rap 2008” edition of my childhood gift. The four songs are merely rearrangements of the words ice, flippin’ it, gettin’ it, models, ride, we, got, it, made, bangers, haters, dough, hustlers, homies, rims, money, bread, gutter, players, grind, paper, rain … you get the idea. The production is an extension of this idea. Synths, hi-hats and thin drums complement the lyrical clichés.

Why don’t we make this an interactive piece? Cut up those words listed above, glue them to magnets and put them on your fridge. In no time at all, you’ll have your first song written. Just remember, using these magnets constitutes a contract between us, and I’ll expect 10 percent on the first of every month. —Damien McPherson


Windward Away

Archie Fisher

(RED HOUSE)

<sublime folklore>

Horseman, BBC Radio host and songster Archie Fisher (M.B.E.) is called “the maister” in his native Scotland. Although he’s never attained the crossover fame bestowed on some of his landsmen (Bert Jansch comes to mind), he has compiled more than 37 years’ worth of a sparse but consistently sublime catalog of recordings, more so than can be confidently said of any other British folkie still plugging away.

The years have done nothing to diminish his talents. The new material on Windward Away, his first album in 13 years, forgoes his (wonderful) ’70s repertoire of Jacobite tributes to Bonny Prince Charlie, traditional ballads and his own compositions delivered in thick Lowland Scots vernacular.

Instead we’re treated to intimate meditations on loves lost and gained, the pleasures of rural life and Fisher’s career high card — songs of the sea. His guitar playing remains excruciatingly enviable, and the man’s voice is without peer for richness and depth. Aging gracefully is hardly a strong suit of most singer-songwriters. All would do well to study the modest maister. —Nathan Salsburg


Ready or Not

Ron Owens

(SELF-RELEASED)

<unnerving>

SCENE: The old Mennonite coffeehouse that used to sit by K’s at the corner of Bardstown Road and Speed Avenue, early-’90s. They’re passing around the wicker bowl of (very) lightly salted popcorn. Coffee is brewing to the side. It smells like an AA meeting.

This is where Owens’ first record, Ready or Not, might transport you. It would be right at home in that cramped little room, being played at a pleasant murmur. In all honesty, the music on this record is just that: pleasant. The production falls quite a bit short of “good,” but getting past that, you’ll find some pretty decent, (dare I say it?) Brian Wilson-esque harmonies. The lyrics themselves are a little too direct for my tastes, and they tend to rhyme like they were cribbed from a children’s book.

All in all, it gave me the unnerving feeling that Barney the dinosaur was going to pop out of my headphones and give me a big Jesus hug. I guess there are worse things that could happen. —J. Brian Hall


The Island Moved in the Storm

Matt Bauer

(LA SOCIETE EXPEDITIONNAIRE)

<murder mysteries>

Lexington native Matt Bauer’s voice is haunting and beautiful. He recounts foreign tales of a rustic region that never existed — yet these songs seem familiar and almost comforting. Springing from the true story of a young woman murdered near Eagle Creek, Ky., in 1968, The Island Moved in the Storm is Bauer’s meditation on life, death, love and loss, given through 16 unrelated stories, each connected to the one before it.

Bauer paints his ill-fated protagonists and aching tragedies against the lavish backdrop of rural innocence, allowing his characters to freely explore the rolling hills of bluegrass that color his memories.

While the lyrics often yield to the dark side of country life, the arrangements are thin and carry traces of the Appalachian music that saturates the lives of Bauer’s characters. His sparing use of instrumentation is effective in creating an atmosphere around these always-unraveling narratives. —Brent Owen


The Recession

Young Jeezy

(CTE/DEF JAM)

<4 my homies>

Young Jeezy has never hidden the fact that he isn’t a great lyricist. But if there’s one way he does excel, it’s capturing the essence of the streets by echoing the voices that go unheard by politicians and major media outlets.

His third album captures the best of his early Trap or Die and Thug Motivation coke-rap style, and blends them with a deep compassion and sympathy for the growing numbers of young, financially hopeless Americans. 

The opener and title track uses various news clips from America’s current economic recession, opening with a soaring horn melody, courtesy of 2008’s go-to producer, DJ Toomp. Then Jeezy enters with his infamous Yeahhhh adlib, followed by one of the more memorable lines on the album, Wish I had me some money / I’d buy me some better luck.

Major guest appearances are intentionally scarce, but Kanye West pops up on the hit single “Put On,” as does Nas on the uplifting closer “Black President.” Jeezy rarely brags or boasts of his success, but rather puts himself in the shoes of the less-fortunate people in his former home of Atlanta’s Fourth Ward, a smart move that surprisingly makes for one of the best rap albums of this year. —Aaron Frank