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May 27, 2008

Music Reviews for 5-28

Lay
It Down
Al
Green
(BLUE
NOTE)
<smooth
operator>
Smooth
as molasses, it doesn’t get more charming than the Rev. Al Green.
Lay It Down,
the latest release from the 62-year-old soul legend, features guest
vocals from Anthony Hamilton, Corinne Bailey Rae and John Legend,
horns by The Dap-Kings, and strings lushly and wonderfully
orchestrated by Larry Gold. The James Poyser/Ahmir ”?uestlove”
Thompson-produced disc shows Green in top form.

Time is often unkind, but Mr. Green sounds
delicious and looks as darling as ever (I want AG to be my friend! He
looks so sweet!). From the title track to his collaboration with John
Legend on “Stay With Me (By the Sea),” the waters run deep and
the emotion is rich. The album ends with the uplifting, good time,
old-school R&B tune “Standing in the Rain.”

Al Green has been entertaining us since 1970, and
though it’s been a few years since his last album, I hope he will
continue to add to his catalog and remind us why he’s a master of
soulful sounds with an abundance of heart. —L.
Park

No,
Virginia
The
Dresden Dolls
(ROADRUNNER)

<punk
cabaret>
Collections
based on a previous album’s leftovers have a painful history (Let
It Bleed notwithstanding). This one
holds together well. Maybe that’s because The Dresden Dolls’
musical modus operandi (shine varying spotlights on Amanda Palmer and
take in the barrage of her emotional fireworks and Brian Viglione’s
cathartic accompaniment) practically demands some variation imposed
by outside forces. Then again, since the duo’s first release was a
strong live disc, perhaps they’re simply very aware of what works
for them at any given moment. Held-back tracks from the Yes,
Virginia… sessions are carefully
intermingled with a newer handful. A cover of the Psychedelic Furs’
hit “Pretty in Pink” is, on paper, more evidence that this
album’s a quickie knockoff, but the musical quality proves that
ain’t necessarily so. Palmer is just so much more than a wizened
gothgrrl, and the additional background shadings from a multi-source
provenance goose the results beyond the reach of sameness and
dullness. That’s as true for the slightly understated “Boston”
as for the memorably titled “Lonely Organist Rapes Page-Turner.”
–T.E. Lyons

Earth
to the Dandy Warhols
The
Dandy Warhols

(BEAT
THE WORLD)
<rewrite>
The
Dandy Warhols’ “Bohemian Like You” is one of my all-time
favorite songs. Released in 2000, I probably listened to it more than
a thousand times in the years directly following its debut. The
pinnacle of the Dandy Warhols’ commercial success, and probably the
fullest realization of their collective musical abilities, the song
is catchy, well-made and laced with cute digs at pseudo-intellectual
hipsters and their various affectations.

Earth
to the Dandy Warhols has a lot of
those sorts of things (Wind chimes! Concise songs! Lyrics that ask
pretty girls to “come back to my place and … talk about
Dostoyevsky”!), only it sucks.
Lead
singer Courtney Taylor-Taylor’s voice is creaky and aged, which
does not jibe with the upbeat instrumentation. The beloved cracks on
indie culture have been reduced to pot-shots at hookers. There’s so
much hazy, sonic layering that it’s impossible to understand the
lyrics or appreciate the melodies. There are rainsticks interspersed
through several tracks. If the Dandys know what’s good for them,
they’ll go back to writing songs about cool waitresses and vegan
food and abandon this spacey nonsense. —Kirsten
Schofield

Character
Flaws
King
Sonic
(SELF-RELEASED)
<wide
swing>
You
know that episode in every sitcom where the kids sneak out against
their parents’ wishes to go to a party/dance club/seedy bar/rock
concert? King Sonic is the house band for that episode. Take two
parts Blues Brothers, one part Brian Setzer and a dash of Michael J.
Fox shredding to Johnny B. Goode in “Back to the Future,” and
you’ve got King Sonic. Their brand of swingin’ whiteboy
rockabilly is the swinginest in town. And possibly the whitest. In
other words, if you’re looking to go out and dance to simple,
straightforward fun-rock, this is your band. In their presskit,
drummer Scott Dale says of Character
Flaws, “King Sonic blends many
different styles of music together to form their own unique brand of
roots rock and blues. Including inspiration from Robert Johnson, to
Johnny Cash, to Big Joe Turner, to Odis (sic) Redding and many more.”
Those sentences sum the band up for me. King Sonic are the kind of
guys who can distill a wide array of influences into party-friendly
rock ’n’ roll, but they’re not the kind of guys who’d waste
time learning to spell the names. And there’s certainly something
to be said for that. —Anthony Bowman

Draw
the Line

Marion
Square
(MARION
SQUARE PARTNERS, LLC)
<sweet
sirens>
Louisville
natives Marion Square offer up one hell of a debut with Draw
the Line; establishing early on that
their sound is … no sound in particular. They weave through many
genres with confidence and ease while maintaining indie-rock
credibility. And if voices carry, then those starving children in
Africa that we hear so much about must be able to hear McCall Cruse
singing from her shower.

“Filigree” leads off with a punchy guitar
riff that immediately brings Prince’s “Kiss” to mind; but the
song is instantaneously cooled by a Coltrane-esque saxophone line
that provides a steady and consistent thread through to the coda. The
stripped-down elegance of “Waltz” allows Cruse to show off her
emotional range and vocal prowess without falling back on
over-the-top flourishes. And “Shaken” sounds like a lost little
gem that they happened to borrow from the U2 canon. There is also an
ethereal satisfaction when a bitter and damaged Cruse sings to an
ex-lover: “You’re a stage without a show.”

With Draw the Line,

the self-proclaimed Radiohead worshippers shouldn’t be the least
bit self-conscious about bowing before Thom & Co. to offer up
these hymns from their own book. —Brent
Owen

Walls
Fall Down

Kimmie
Rhodes
(SUNBIRD)
<americana>

It’s
always good to hear from Rhodes — and not just because the gender
ratio of top-rank Texas troubadours skews toward XY types. This
singer/songwriter’s always had a unique way with life’s
bittersweetness. Just a bit theatrical, yet she doesn’t fall into
the trap of drowning her work in lush trappings. Neither does she
join the horde of folk-pop and alt-country artists who pockmark their
releases with acoustic-and-voice tracks because they were flummoxed
on how to present their own songs. The nine originals and three
covers (co-produced by the singer’s son/guitarist Gabriel)
frequently benefit from cello and keyboards that work like supple
harmonies alongside Rhodes’ thrush-that’s-done-some-hard-living
voice. Townes van Zandt’s “If I Needed You” gets its just dose
of wearied conviction. The Beatles’ “The Fool on the Hill” is a
surprise choice, but it isn’t the one disappointment here — that
would be the too-obvious Bush slam “Your Majesty.” Overall, this
isn’t Rhodes at her peak, but it stands up well enough and succeeds
in presenting another distinctive step in an underappreciated
artistic journey. —T.E. Lyons