Monthly Archives: May 2009

127. Kate Campbell – “Moonpie Dreams”

Let me just clarify. The Campbell here is not Isobel (of Belle and Sebastian fame), nor Glenn (of Rhinestone Cowboy fame). Kate is a lady from the American south with a guitar, a great voice and folk-music sensibilities.

Kate Campbell Moonpie moon pie dreams album coverLike several artists to appear thus far, she was first sighted by yours truly down Port Fairy way, and my missus has been accumulating her CDs ever since (some as pressies from lovely old me).

This is the earliest of her releases in our collection, and one that had never left any impression on me at all.  Having now spent a day listening to it, I can say that I don’t care for it much at all. 

It’s all the wrong stuff about adult contemporary music.  It is decidedly middle of the road and bland.  And the songs are way too earnest, with a strong leaning towards songs about “The Lord”. Of her works it is the least folky.  There is a decided lack of acoustic instrumentation. Indeed I would put it in the Muscle Shoals country-type category.

The saving grace is Campbell’s Southern twang and the sense that she might tell a slightly ribald joke or touching story any second.  Unfortunately neither eventuate.

File under: One of those annoying, pointless, meandering dreams

126. Call and Response – “Call and Response”

You may recall my rant about bubblegum pop back a few weeks back. The basic premise was that it better be light yet sticky.

call-and-response album coverThese Californians are chasing that elusive goal.  And for a few tracks they reach said nirvana.

They tackle the task with suitable tools.  Up front is a bouncy and full bass-line.  The melodies emanate from a mix of organs, Hammond and the like.  The sound is lush. The vocals are breathy, mainly female, with some effete bloke harmonising on occasion.

The lyrical content is appropriate.  The first two tracks: Blowin’ Bubbles and Rollerskating. Get the picture?  These two tracks are the pick of the bunch by a fair margin, however.  They’ve been gyrating around my cerebral cortex all day long.

The novelty wears off pretty quickly after those two tune though. In the end this is the sort of thing Belle and Sebastian might produce if there were less folks in the band, and if they ultimately weren’t miserable Scots. Its all very happy.  It lacks the slight perversity or sarcasm of the B&S, The Brunettes, or even the Lucksmiths.

Take this CD if already happy. Otherwise it will cloy for sure.

File under: Diabetics beware

As simple as A, B…

So, after 101 reviews (plus a few sundry catch-ups) I have knocked off the “Bs” in my collection. It has been a long, but pleasurable journey through the outer reaches of the rock, funk, folk, blues, world music, Danish hip hop, and even spoken word, galaxies.

I look forward to now launching into a whole new world of Cs. But before doing so, I though I’d just take this chance to cobble together some reflective rankings:

Firstly, remembering back to the “As”, here are the top 5:

  1. Lily Allen – “Alright, still…”
  2. The Audreys – “Between Last Night and Us”
  3. Ryan Adams – “Heartbreaker”
  4. Ryan Adams – “Gold”
  5. Lily Allen – “It’s Not Me, It’s You”

So a mix of pop and alt-country, and dominated by voices of the female variety.

Turning to “B”, here’s the top 10:

  1. The Black Keys – “Rubber Factory”
  2. The Beastie Boys – “Paul’s Boutique”
  3. James Brown – “Star Time Disk Two”
  4. Buffalo Tom – “Let Me Come Over”
  5. James Brown – “Star Time Disk Three”
  6. Dan Brodie and The Broken Arrows – “Empty Arms, Broken Hearts”
  7. James Brown – “Star Time Disk One”
  8. Billy Bragg – “Back to Basics”
  9. Solomon Burke – “Don’t Give Up On Me”
  10. The Breeders – “Last Splash”

Looks like funk/soul and bluesy rock win out, and there’s only a little bit of love for the ladies. And wow, I really did dig that James Brown box set. The world got a whole rockier in the B section (thankfully) and I uncovered a few gems I hadn’t heard in years. What will C bring?

For the dorky stats-minded amongst you, the most visited reviews are:

  1. Lily Allen – “Alright, still…”
  2. Björk – “Post”
  3. The Beach Boys – “Pet Sounds
  4. Beck – “Mellow Gold
  5. The Beastie Boys – “Solid Gold Hits”

With a bullet are the reviews of Bright Eyes, and the Breeders.

125. The Byrds – “The Essential Byrds”

After causing a minor controversy with my dismissal of one sacred cow of the 1960s, I was a little concerned I might have to tread carefully with this review.

the-essential-byrds album coverBut the reality of this collection of 44 “essential” tunes (over a double CD) is that it only surprises in a good way. I purchased this on a whim a few years back after spending far too long pretending I knew a lot about these US progenitors of folk-rock (and after picking up an Uncut CD that had a fine compilation of bands influenced by said act).

The revelation of the CDs is how much of their work I did indeed know, and how broad their range was over a relatively short period of time. From the debut single Tambourine Man, to the sardonic So You Want to be a Rock & Roll Star and the trippy Eight Miles High, this is one of those bands who were there through a big chunk of the cool stuff going in in the late 60s.

Musically the stuff is pretty fresh, especially the guitar work. Like all good folkies they also know how to nail a cover. Their interpretations of the Bobs (Seeger and Dylan) are much more palatable versions than the originals in many ways.

There is the expected indulgences on here too. Their hippy prog rock efforts are cringe-worthy, most notably Dolphin’s Smile. The most folky country stuff is more fun (like Drug Store Truck Drivin’ Man).

All in all this is a better greatest hits compilation that most and I’m glad I can speak with a little authority about these lads nowadays.

File under: First class flight

124. Butthole Surfers – “Electriclarryland”

When looking at the CD shelves, I sometimes cringe at the choices there.  Often its not about the presence of particular artist, but rather the album chosen from within their discography.

The Butthole Surfers Electriclarryland album coverThis sole glimpse into the world of the Butthole Surfers is well and truly in that category.

I know they were supposed legends of the US underground, holders of the Dead Kennedys flame, more credible than The Ministry, more shocking than The Cramps. And I know after a decade and half of well-credentialed obscurity, they delivered this CD and rode a wave of fame on the back of the  Pepper single.

Pepper sits out there with tunes by Cake and Chumbawamba, as ridiculously catchy, and embarrassingly smile-inducing.  You sort of know you should sneer but you cant.

Of course, as to be expected, has nothing else like the hit.   Some of the punky stuff is fun and horribly dated.  The more grindy industrial ‘tunes’ are skip-worthy.

The band does show genuine pop sensibilities at time.TV Star could be a Dando track. Cough Syrup jumps genres intriguingly and effectively. Jingle of  a Dog’s Collar sees the B-52s take on Pavement.

I just suspect there was more of substance in their back catalogue.

File under: Arriving too late at the party

123. William S. Burroughs and the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy – “Spare Ass Annie and Other Tales”

This CD sits at the unusual intersection of literature, spoken word and music.

William S. Burroughs and the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy Spare Ass Annie and Other Tales abum coverThe music is fairly incidental and subtle relative to the verbal content.  It really just some beats, a bit of urgent, skivvy-wearing discordant horn blasts and some industrial samples.

Its the Burroughs poetry and imagery which totally dominates.  He verbalises excerpts from several of his works, and most of them are disturbing.  This is the world of mutants, extraneous body orifices and cruel, lawless states. 

I once fell asleep to this CD (deliberately – i.e. I had put it on at bedtime).  I had some of the most disturbing dreams as I internalised Burroughs’ dreamings.  I guess it’s cheaper than hallucinogens, but I would hope for prettier pictures. 

For the Michael Franti completists out there, this is by far his artiest work, and, I suspect, much more the results of Ronny Tse and Charlie Hunter’s efforts than his.

Ultimately this isn’t something I chuck on for a relaxing listen. It serves much the same purpose as having Burroughs on the bookshelf – as a testament to some feigned hipster Beat Poet phase that thoroughly failed to impress undergrad girlies back in the day, and now gathers dust.

File under: Art with an extra heart

122. RL Burnside – “Acoustic Stories”

A pitfall of this review process that I have created for myself is the requirement to listen to the albums in the order they appear on my shelf. Thus I have spent almost a week immersed in the more rootsy world of music. And I must say I’m starting to pine for some rock, rap or the like.

RL Burnside Acoustic Stories album coverAs such, I’m concerned that I might not be doing this album justice. It is a rather subtle effort from one of raw blues’ legends. This is the usually reasonably raucous Burnside getting all soft and gentle, plucking out tunes on an acoustic guitar.

His song-writing is still very good as he navigates very traditional territory – hardship, love gone (very) wrong, poverty – all of which, of course, have got him down.

The playing is sparse. Some of the tunes are pretty funny. The spoken word tale Monkey in the Pool Room contains some hilarious lines, and some gobsmackingly difficult phrases to interpret. He really sounds like he’s speaking some other language.

The pick of the tracks is Skinny Woman. He doesn’t want one… which reminds me of Sir Mix-a-Lot’s views on the matter. Alas he isn’t next in the queue.

File under: Slow and subtle

121. Solomon Burke – “Nashville”

Having conquered the soul arena, it was logical for the enormous force of nature that is Solomon Burke to roll through Nashville bowling over everything in his path.

Solomon Burke album cover NashvilleSolomon is clearly a man with friends in all the right places.  He says “I’d like to do a country album”, and up pop Dolly Parton, Emmy-Lou Harris and Gillian Welch offering to sing along, and Buddy Miller ready to spin the production knobs.

They do a damn fine job.  They find a very workable and attractive middle ground at the intersection of soul and country.  The country is at the “western” end of the spectrum (which I presume has rock at the other end).  Much of the instrumentation is acoustic. The tempo is often thigh slapping speed, and Burke’s voice is right up front.

The song selections are a treat – tunes about money-grabbing ex-wives (Aint Got You), roller-coaster relationships (Seems Like You’re Gonna Take Me Back), and more woman trouble (You’re the Kind of Trouble).

This is a more restrained effort from Burke, but sits comfortably alongside Johnny Cash’s American Recordings as a testament to the power of country music.

File under: The wisdom of Solomon

120. Solomon Burke – “Don’t Give Up On Me”

As a music fan, you hold out for those moments when you are truly blown away by a live performance. Often these moments appear from leftfield.

Solomon Burke album cover Dont Give Up On MeJust such an event happened to me a few years ago at Bluesfest up in Byron Bay. On the program was one Solomon Burke, lauded as a soul legend but with whom I was unfamiliar.

He turned out to be some much more. Perhaps the largest human I have ever seen on stage, he presided over an ever-expanding entourage of singers and players, all while ensconced in an appropriately grand and gaudy throne. The music was perfectly constructed and rousing soul. Lots of call and response, lots of theatre, great muscianship, and best of all – Burke’s charisma and voice.

What was intriguing was the quality of the songwriting on some songs. It turns out these were his latest output (i.e on this here album) and penned specifically for him by such luminaries as Dylan, Waits, Costello, V.Morrison and B.Wilson. They are beautiful, slower-paced numbers that he wraps his super smooth vocal chords around. His timing is perfect, the songs elevating him above the soul pack.

Alas I can’t find you a decent video off the album, but here’s a short snippet of him performing a tune he had on the Dirty Dancing soundtrack:

File under: A huge voice on a huge man

119. Vika and Linda – “Tell the Angels”

This is the first album I’ve reviewed on which I was a participant (and it won’t be the last!).

Bull Vika and Linda Tell the Angels album coverThis album was recorded live over a series of shows at the Cornish Arms Hotel in Melbourne. I was in attendance at one of these gigs, so I have reasonable grounds to assume that some of these tracks may record some whoops and hollers from me amongst the crowd noise.

Irrespective of my glorious presence, this album is the highpoint in our Bull sisters’ collection. Here they tackle the soul-gospel genre head on, wrestle it to the ground and arise all-conquering. Ok, that’s excessive hyperbole, but I feel the need to testify.

This time they’ve selected classic tracks from acts like the Staples Singers, and recruited a band very capable of delivering the boogie-woogie piano, jangly guitar and rousing feel. Their version of John the Revelator is enough to almost get me believing.

This is a truly joyous testament to the only decent thing religion ever gave us – gospel. Thanks gals.

File under: Worthy of praise