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.