Category Archives: E

427. Justin Townes Earle – “Harlem River Blues”

Some E action before we get to K…

We’re currently watched the new New Orleans based TV series from the ‘Wire’ gang – ‘Treme’ – and rejoicing in its musical focus.  A thrill from episode 4 was the sight of Justin Townes Earle and his facially hirsute pa Steve, playing the role of French Quarter buskers.

In a perfect world, every single person watching the show would have been going ‘there’s Justin’ in the fashion I was.  This young man should be a superstar of the first order.

This, his third album, continues his evolution into a fully fledged member of my country 1st class (i.e. alongside Lucinda, Gillian, Johnny Cash, Steve, Hank…).

While in the past I’ve lauded the ‘olde worlde’ skills of JTE, on this record he strides more confidently into the latter part of the 20th century.  There is much less bluegrass, replaced by warm, occasionally gospel-like tunes.

The title track is a ripper, with a surprisingly upbeat suicidal narrative. There’s a luscious lament to lost love in NZ (Christchurch Girl). And he plays to my love of railway-songs onWorkin’ for the MTA.

To sense the progress the Son-of-Steve has made, check him wandering confidently into R&B land (eventually, the song kicks in at about 1:30 min mark):

JTE’s on his way down under again in March 2011 (for the Golden Plains festival, but hopefully playing sideshows aplenty).  Go see him (I’ll be stalking him in NYC not long after).

File under: The third time’s a charm

292. Even – “Less is More”

Despite my lukewarm affections for the band, I also own Even’s debut long-player on vinyl.

Giving it a rare pair of spinnings this afternoon, I stand (well, sit) pretty impressed.

Perhaps it’s the crackly, earthy sound of the platter and stylus, or just my relaxed post-work, beer-sipping demeanour, but I find this earlier work considerably more vibrant and energetic.

It sounds less like a tribute and more like a band with their own ideas.  It’s somewhat janglier and less consciously British.  Perhaps it’s because I’ve been listening to a bit of Big Star today (in honour of Alex Chilton’s passing), but I hear that same joyous love of the guitar power-pop artform.

Ash Naylor’s vocals and guitar work hook up well with Matt Cotter’s and Wally Meanie’s rhythm work.

This serves as a worthy companion piece to other Aussie retrograders like The Stems, You Am I, Icecream Hands, and even the Hoodoo Gurus.

This set would get my attention if they played it next time I stumble across them on a Fitzroy stage.

File under: I might scream for More

291. Even – “A Different High”

Anyone whose been to even a few gigs in Melbourne over the past decade and a half will have encountered Even, either on stage, or as gig attendees.

These guys personify the term”stalwarts.”  They are huge music fans and it shines through in everything they record.

Their fandom seems to predate their birthdates too. The menu offering here is an unashamedly mod-rock main course, with a Mersey-side side salad.

There is quite a bit to like here: a consistent sound; clean production; sweet vocal harmonising;  the rhythms you’d expect from this sort of sound, and well-constructed lyrics.

The problem is that there are very few surprises.  There isn’t that adaptation of the sound that you hear on the works of someone like Elliott Smith.

Sure, the lads don’t sway into the borderline parody of the 1960s we get from Oasis and, earlier, Lenny Kravitz, but at least those acts were out there delivering something raucous and vibrant.

This is all a little too subtle for my liking.  I can’t help but think these guys would have been the 6th best band in Liverpool back in the day.

I’ve never gone to see these guys headline a show.  They are great background support act fare.

File under: No risk of altitude sickness

290. Eminem – “Relapse”

Surely no one was surprised when Marshall Mather’s bacchanalian lifestyle got the better of him and he hauled himself off to lengthy rehab.

His battle with sleep medication led to a 4 year gap between recordings.

I can’t help but think the therapists could have phoned in the sessions.  Eminem’s back catalogue had pretty comprehensively catalogued his issues:

– absent father? (check)

– addictive and abusive mother? (check)

– codependent and fragile relationship with mother of his child? (check)

– startlingly low self-confidence? (check)

– poor ‘work environment’? (check)

– battered ego? (check)

This album adds a few more pieces to the puzzle – sexually abusive stepfather and an enabling management.

That’d all be really fascinating if we were psychology students, but it doesn’t make for much entertainment.  Whereas, on previous albums, there had been a balance between the gruesome, the cartoonish violence and misogyny and the jestering, this time round it’s all a bit too self-indulgent and focussed on the trials of addiction.

The skits that usually provided some light are equally dark (although the Steve Berman has a nice Ari Gold angle).  There simply aren’t the big singles that have held the other albums together. And the offensive stuff is simply that, with no redeeming angles.

File under: No claps for this relapse

289. Eminem – “Encore”

Listening to Eminem persistently can have a bizarre effect on one’s brain.

The sheer speed of his rhymes tends to speed up my synapses.  Or maybe it just reduces my attention span.  I certainly am starting to feel like I might share his  ADD tendencies.

His anger and frustrations are a little contagious too.  I have a felt a little fiestier in recent days than I probably should be.

As always, Eminem swings back and forth between rabid and ribald on this album.

He continues to be a little over-obsessed with his position in the world of rap and fame.  Thankfully, he does concede his whininess on Evil Deeds. He offers neat insights into his entrée into rapping on Yellow Brick Road. He also brings us into the whacky world of rappers whacking each other on Toy Soliders.  Gotta be happy about a tune that samples Martika too…

However, the most memorable efforts on here are his most juvenile.  I giggle like a naughty tween to both Big Weenies and the hilariously stupid Ass Like That. Turn this up in your workplace and guarantee a visit from your Harassment Officer:

File under: Puerile from Eight Mile

288. Eminem – “The Eminem Show”

For some inexplicable reason our Eminem collection does not include his much-lauded sophomore effort (I say “our” as my wife has typically procured our Marshall Mathers’ output). 

So this is the next opus on the start line. In the time since his debut, Eminem had become a superstar, with all the dramas that entails.

It seems to suck being wealthy, famous and controversial.  A big chunk of this album sees Eminem reminding us who he has offended, and been affronted by.

Some of these rants are engaging. Others are completely self-indulgent. I find his domestic dramas (such Cleaning out My Closet) somehow more compelling than his attempts to portray himself as the frontline soldier in some battle against George W.Bush or Tipper Gore (Square Dance or White America).

The distractions of divorce, fans, money, drugs, rivals etc do seem to have stymied Eminem’s creative juices somewhat.  Unlike the debut which was overflowing with bright ideas, and tunes that had me shaking my head in wonder, this album is overly long, with too many half-formed ideas.

The standout Without Me demonstrates what he is capable of when he hits his stride:

It also contains that same riff as the hold music for our local taxi company (13 cabs, round the block, 13 cabs)…

File under: More show than tell

287. Eminem – “The Slim Shady LP”

Missy begins a hip-hop-heavy stream of reviews over the coming days.

Album cover Eminem The Slim Shady LP CD coverWe kick off with the major label debut of one of the most distinctive and influential artists of the noughties. 

It’s appropriate that Marshall Mathers dominate a decade with such a nickname, as naughtiness is his stock in trade.

Eminem burst on to the scene with a bang with this album.  And it’s easy to see why.

He is larger than life, brash, funny, bratty and hard to ignore. The switch between two  ‘extremes’ of his own crudeness spectrum. 

At one end is his cartoonish work (like the title-ish track My Name Is, Role Model, My Fault).  This is the stuff that makes you giggle, and makes you wish you could be a rebellious early teen again, and be shocking your parents with your listening habits.

Eminem is equally adept at offering a twisted, venom-filled tale of angst (like Rock Bottom), and the truly twisted and macabre explorations of a violent, jealous mind (’97 Bonnie & Clyde).

I find this album exhilarating.  It ain’t necessarily great musicianship (despite Dr. Dre’s fantastic producing). Rather it is closer to comedy and satire.  Mathers could well be a genius… or just a very naughty boy.

File under: My Name is…Impressed.

286. Missy Elliott – “Supa Dupa Fly”

Here’s the companion CD to my earlier Da Brat review. For those of you disinclined to follow my link, the story is that one Xmas I purchased my missus a couple of different CDs by female rappers.

Album Cover Missy Elliott Supa Dupa FlyDa Brat is a hardened criminal, whereas Missy is only dabbling in Misdemeanours (according to her moniker at least).

She is certainly less hardcore, rhyming over slower grind rhythm. She’s got that stoner rap thing going on (but without the hilarity and audacity of Cypress Hill).

Missy does have some cool, and useful, accomplices – namely Busta Rhymes and über-producer Timbaland. The latter lays down some sufficiently varied beats to make this laid back effort not seem too lazy. Busta’s role is a little less important. He seems to be just there to introduce the main act, and to thank us for listening.

There is a lot of promise on this album, but a Elliot doesn’t quite deliver, as she too often resorts to more groove than rhyme. When she gets it right, particularly when we she gets a catchy enough old sample to play with, the result is good listening:

File under: Hit ’em with old Peabo

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