Monthly Archives: March 2009

75. The Black Keys – “Rubber Factory”

A very long-running gag amongst a few mates and I is to interrupt anyone starting a story “I woke up this morning…” with a verbal approximation of a blues guitar riff.

the-black-keys-rubber-factory-album-coverOf course, this springs from the tendency of old-time bluesmen to start many a lament in such a way. 

Therefore, it always thrills me when Dan and Pat unleash just such a pairing on Grown So Ugly (and follow through with a truly brilliant tune).  It is a shame that this is track #8, not #1. Having said that, the opening couple of tracks (When the Lights Go Out and 10AM Automatic) are on par.

Indeed, this album lacks for any filler.  The great tracks just keep coming. Stack Shot Billy and Girl is On Mind showcase the Keys sound perfectly. 

This is the long player where these guys really come into their own.  The vocals are given just a little more clarity than on their previous two albums, the guitar is crisper and the drums feel alive.  I love how Patrick creates so much more than mere persussion on the kit. I swear he’s playing riffs on them cymbals.

All hail the new kings.

File under: There is power in this factory…

74. Black Diamond Heavies- “Every Damn Time”

There’s some great bio info on the back sleeve of this debut outing.  It turns out that the drummer in this duo comes from a bourbon-distilling family.  Meanwhile, the singer/organist is the literal “son of a preacher man”.  That sounds like the perfect pairing for grimey, soul-tinged rock. 

black-diamond-heavies-every-damn-time-album-coverAs I said in my earlier review of their follow-up, these guys have taken a time-honoured genre and made it all seem new and exciting and dangerous again.  

This album is about as lo-fi as I can tolerate.  The tracks were pretty much recorded directly into a two-track, with only a little bit of horns added in later.  They’ve done a great job of it.  It feels like you standing in the room dodging the sweat as it flies.

The vocals sound just as Waits-ey as on album #2, and the drums and organ work perfectly in unison.  The tales are real and raw, especially the powerful White Bitch.

They are quickly becoming the band that excites me most.  See them live. Buy their stuff. Love them like me. Here are a couple more tracks from them: 

File under: Kick-Arse and Life-Affirming

73. The Black Crowes – “War Paint”

This was supposed to be the big comeback album for the Crowes after a Kate Hudson-caused hiatus (well I think was the explanation I heard).

the-black-crowes-warpaint-album-coverIt caused a bit of an internet furore, when one magazine reviewed it without hearing it. The review was unfavourable, and I guess it serves as a reflection of the low expectations some in the press may have had of this release (as well as the lazy attitude of less-hardworking reviewers than myself).

Bands coming off spells can sometimes struggle. The Crowes hiatus coincided with lead singer Chris Robinson putting out a couple of solo albums which were less polished and more jam-oriented than the BCs.

In many ways this album treads the ground between those efforts and the band’s ’90s work. There is a more country-rock bent and less big riffing.

It is all very competent, but I don’t feel the energy of their early work. They seem to be going through the motions somewhat, although Robinson is a little more versatile vocally than on the ‘mid-career’ work. I’m also concerned by the god-bothering track towards the end. Insufficiently rock’n’roll in attitude there lads.

File under: Not as feisty as I’d like

72. The Black Crowes – “Live”

Live albums serve a weird function in the world of musical recordings. Attempting to capture the essence of live performance, but without the visuals, the atmosphere, the alcohol etc. renders the endeavour a far from adequate substitute.

the-black-crowes-live-album-cover1Indeed, the fact that most music goers will happily pay upwards of 3 times the cost of an album to see a decent act “in the flesh” stands as testament to my point. That’s a very considerable premium (or discount depending on which direction you’re coming from), especially as the album can be played multiple times.

This double-CD from the Black Crowes has had numerous plays around our place, but it certainly doesn’t capture the excitement of seeing these guys live. There isn’t the electricity in the air, the sweatiness, the lighting, the volume, or the hilarious throwback attire.

The album capture some giggle-worthy on-stage soliloquies from the decidedly spacey Chris Robinson (especially his one about the “Cosmos”). And they deliver a setlist heavy with their best tracks.  They are still using those damn backup singers… so I refuse to overly endorse this release.  But if you don’t wanna fork out the big bucks to see them on stage, you could do worse things…

File under: Live but not always kicking

71. The Black Keys – “The Big Come Up”

As you may have picked up from their mention in my previous review, I am a large fan of Akron, Ohio outfit The Black Keys. I have been heard to describe them as my favourite live band.

the-big-come-up-the-black-keys-album-coverThis was their debut album, and as with Belle and Sebastian, these guys emerged from their chrysalis fully formed, with a sound which set them apart from those around them. 

It is a startlingly simple idea.  One guy playing electric guitar like he’s the reincarnation of some 1920s bluesman, singing very similarly.  The other bloke pounding out a steady beat like there’s no tomorrow, and almost playing riffs on the highhats.  The guitar sings and wails, the lyrics are not always decipherable, but the energy cannot be ignored.  It is music as medicine for the soul. 

This particular recording is perhaps the most rudimentary of the BK’s efforts.  And it is no worse for it.  Their confidence in this sound and approach means that their covers of The Stooges, Beatles and Junior Kimbrough are almost indiscernable from their own tunes. 

And it’s on white vinyl!!

File under: Bluesy bliss

70. Black Diamond Heavies – “A Touch of Someone Else’s Class”

We interrupt our Black Crowes run with a short stroll over to the record rack for our weekend vinyl spinning session.

black-diamond-heavies-touch-of-class-album-cover

Here’s an album which just wouldn’t sound right delivered via CD, or heaven forbid, as a download.

This duo from somewhere in the south of the US have been hailed as doing for soul what The Black Keys (coming soon) did for blues, i.e. dragging it kicking and screaming into the 21st century with a determined dirtiness. That recommendation was enough for me to buy their two releases, and to seek them out when they supported the Datsuns in Melbourne last December.

The sound here is damn filthy. The lead singer has one of those ‘lived extremely hard’ voices. At times this could be a younger, skinnier Tom Waits belting out the tunes while bashing the hell out of an organ. Alongside this, the drummer rides his cymbals in a similar fashion to Patrick from the aforementioned Keys.

This is wonderul, visceral, shake you-to-your-bones music. It can only be played loud. The cover of Nutbush City Limits on here would make Ike very very happy (and kill most wedding reception crowds). Further reworkings of Nina Simone and T-Model Ford numbers give further guidance to their lineage.

This is brilliant. Please buy it. Here’s a further taster:

File under: Not polished but so precious

69. The Black Crowes – “By Your Side”

Things that put me off in the rock world part 1 – backing singers.

the-black-crowes-by-your-side-album-coverI don’t mean a bit of harmonising (or not quite harmonising) by the guy on rhythm guitar, or the drummer piping up during the chorus. 

I mean a line of formation-dancing, gospel choir-trained ladies providing soaring arias alongside the less capable lead singer and clogging up space on stage when they go on the road.  Such additions are the start of the slippery tide towards decks of synths, a second “percussionist”, and as I saw at a recent Ani Di Franco show, a xylophonist. 

It just aint rock.  It’s fine if your a funk or soul act.  Or, indeed, a do-wop group.  Then you can have as many Joanie Cunninghams as you like.

So rant over.  The Black Crowes engage such choristers to excess on this album, and push it dangerously close to Mellencamp territory.

Coupled with misdemeanour against humanity 2, the ugly Perry Farell-imitating overblown band photo, it pushes what is an otherwise promising release into irritating land. 

It’s a damn shame too because the boogey-influenced bluesy rock here is still better than most.

File under: No need for back up