Author Archives: Andre Sammartino

More like One Album a Week

Loyal readers, you might have noticed a lull in proceedings over the past week or so. I am currently staying in New York (with sporadic commutes down to Philadelphia). Our apartment here doesn’t have a newfangled stereo that’ll play my iTunes, so the albums currently in the queue are only heard when I don my headphones.

As such, you should lower your expectations regarding frequency of reviews. I suspect I might only get to one a week for the next 3 months!

On a more positive front, I am enjoying new venues and new gigs to see. Last night’s show featuring Wild Flag (featuring two members of Sleater Kinney), Superchunk and Bright Eyes at Radio City Music Hall was superb.

383. Ben Harper and The Blind Boys of Alabama – “There Will be a Light”

I picked up this little collaborative effort after being won over by the septuagenarian Blind Boys up at Bluesfest a few years back.  It seemed a fun why to check out their recording acumen.

I am a bit of a sucker for gospel action, especially when melded with a bit of bluesiness. This is a reasonable effort as Harper pens a set of tunes that capture the essence of the genre, and provides the Blind Boys with ample space to display their still impressive vocal ranges and harmonising. The covers are well-chosen and suitably rousing.

It’s not a life-changing CD in any way (although I guess it could be if you’re looking for a bit of the saving and redemption and all that jazz), but it does work well on a Sunday morning.

As a random aside, we’ve been immersed in The Wire and I have delighted in the Blind Boy’s theme song action (and stunned to see our favourite blind barkeeper cruelly executed last week – ooops, I probably should have said “spoiler alert”!):

File under: More delight than blight

382. Ben Harper and The Innocent Criminals – “Live from Mars”

You can’t say I’m not an open-minded man/glutton for punishment, as we own multiple Ben Harper CDs.

This double live set was a gift for my wife that she may or may not have greatly appreciated.

As you may be able to see from the cover, Harper performs to large crowds of people with their hands constantly raised in sheer joy (or something like that).  All credit to him, he never once asks them to do so on this disc (thus lifting the albumn above several Michael Franti live recordings I’ve heard, and every Franti show I’ve ever seen).

My main gripe with the earlier album was the rather low-key, mundane pacing etc.  Harper has heard my complaints, and for the first disc here rocks it out all electric style.  This is the better side of his personalities, as he channels a bit of Zep (quite explicitly on a Whole Lotta Love cover, and almost as blatantly on Woman in You).  Other tracks could easily fit into a Black Crowes set.

His guitar work is worth hearing, his vocals less cloying. He handles covers pretty impressively, although he, like most, can’t out Marvin Marvin Gaye on Sexual Healing.

The acoustic set sits quite well alongside the electric brethren, as I’ve sort of worked myself into the whole Harper schtick by then.

File under: Neither intergalactic nor planetary

381. Ben Harper – “The Will to Live”

I’ve never got the global (or is it really just Australia’s?) fascination with Ben Harper.

His music has always just struck me as very middle of the road, bog standard acoustic blues.  It doesn’t jump out and grab, nor is it groundbreaking in any way.

Before I incur the wrath of many of his disciples, I will dispel a few of the tirades.

Yes, I have heard he’s a god live, but this album isn’t live. And yes, I’ve had the opportunity to see him, but chose to avoid the swirling masses in Byron.

No, I didn’t buy the CD in the first place – my wife did.

Yes, I probably am some soulless heathen comparable to Hitler.

My problem rests on the lack of oomph here.  It is all a little too slick and laid back.  His voice is too high (even for a self-confessed twee-pop and soul fan) especially for the genre. The songs are infinitely predictable and just plain unmemorable.

In the end I prefer the work of his North Melbourne Football club lookalike Daniel Wells.

And so as to ensure I am condemned to eternal damnation by the Harperphiles, if I want some falsetto action I’ll head for Mr. Trent D’Arby:

File under: I’m losing it

Vale Alex Chilton

It is with sadness that I find myself stepping away from the review process to acknowledge the passing of a subject of three reviews on here: Mr Alex Chilton of Big Star fame.

It is a loss to the music world. Here are the reviews: Review 1 Review 2 Review 3 and some clips:

285. Mark Eitzel – “Caught in a Trap and I Can’t Back Out ‘Cause I Love You Too Much, Baby”

I have presented a rather crudely formed thesis over various reviews: that there may be an inverse relationship between album title length and quality therein. 

Album cover caught in a trap Mark Eitzel  CDLike in the sentence above, verbosity can often be a lead indicator of pretentiousness and self-indulgence. 

As such, this release from Eitzel ran the risk of being a real (hound) dog, given the lengthy Elvis-nodding moniker.

Thankfully, Eitzel has the class (and the buddies) to pull it off.  He leans on a Sonic Youth-er and Yo La Tengo-ite to help him construct luscious, full-bodied, yet stark tales. 

Eitzel pulls out as much imagery as these bare-boned tracks can handle.  Only occasionally does he tip over into the trite (e.g. by dropping the term “chapeau” as if it is something one might say regularly). 

The tracks swing between intimate acoustic numbers, and more fuzz-backed electric efforts.  Each type work.  One track in particular, Cold Light of Day, should be a better-known tune.  It build beautifully and has a chorus any songwriter would kill for.

So, my thesis is dashed for now, but I’m happy to have given this CD the spins it deserved.

File under: Keep an open (not suspicious) mind

284. Mark Eitzel – “West”

This review process throws up some strange revelations.  The one here was that for the past 10 years or more, I’ve thought I was listening to Mark Eitzel’s ’60 Watt Silver Lining’ album, when, in fact, the disk in the case was his follow up ‘West’. 

It shows that I never bothered to read the liner notes or match the songs to their titles.

It also somehow appropriate given I think I bought this (or the following one) on slightly false pretenses.  I’m pretty sure when I spied it in a second hand store that I had Eitzel confused with Screaming Trees frontman Mark Lanegan.

All up that could have been a recipe for disappointment.  But, having given this more than its usual cursory play, I must say I’m pretty happy with this one-time American Music Club lead singer.

He delivers a chilled out, one-man-and-his-guitar effort. He stays the right side of earnest, and swings back and forth between sounding like an acoustic Buffalo Tom and a not too plaintive Elvis Costello

There’s no one tune which had my screaming (or whispering “hell yeah”), but this is good Sunday arvo fare.

File under: Incognito no more