I never had a Bob Marley phase. As a relatively straight-laced teen, I didn’t embrace the ganja, nor pretend to dig Jah.
And the only Haile Selassie I’ve ever worshiped had a ‘Gebre’ in his name and was renowned for his running track action.
So, I came to this CD from my wife’s deep, dark history with no reminiscence. And it’s a bit of a surprise.
The album contains none of the tracks I associate with the dreadlocked one. Indeed, it’s not even as reggae as I expected. Sure, there’s a bit of the swinging basslines, low tempo, and offbeat guitar rhythms. And with the requisite drug references:
But vocally, Bob often also veers into a more soulful space. And the album is all the better for it. By playing in a genre I have more of a feel for, I have a much great appreciation of Mr Marley’s vocal capabilities and musical sensibilities.
And looking ahead I can see my next album is chockablock with the Marley standards.
File under: Sufficiently ambulatory
Our collection is smattered with CDs reflective my wife’s heritage. This is a collection of tunes from her birthplace – Zimbabwe – from that country’s most prominent musician.
This is a compilation of tracks from across various albums. Mapfumo originated Chimurenga – struggle music.
It’s all sung in the Shona language, so I can’t say much about the content (beyond what I’ve read in the brief liner notes). But, he’s done enough to piss Mugabe off and be forced into exile.
Musically, the tracks are distinctly Zimbabwean, built as they are around mbiras (those funky little thumb piano thingies). The rhythms are hypnotic, and Mapfumo vocal style is similarly enveloping with a strong rhythmic drive.
At times, he steps over into the reggae space with ease (as this video captures, this matches up very well with his look too):
For struggle music, this is extremely pleasant listening.
File under: Embrace it bro
I do try and adhere to my ‘judge an album in isolation’ rule. This means that comparisons to other releases from an artist should be avoided.
But it’s hard. When I press play I have some preconceptions as to what a band is capable of. And when those expectations aren’t meant it does affect my perception.
This album is certainly a case in point. This folk act who I encountered first at Port Fairy, then again in Copenhagen, played rollicking bluegrass live and also on an EP I play quite regularly.
But this full-lengther is slow, slickly produced with a very full, alt-country-lite sound. And it just doesn’t gel with me as I crave the energy and playfulness of what I know this band is/was capable of.
And, again, this album also suffers from the best two tracks being covers of classic tunes – Satisfied Mind and Come as you are. Certainly they are superb renditions that sit comfortably with the overall collection but it all feels too safe and slightly ponderous.
File under: A road too far
As solo releases from pretty beloved frontmen go, this one from Pavement alum Malkmus is relatively unusual. It doesn’t suck.
Stephen stays in relatively familiar territory, with loads of quirky, intelligent lyrics, poppy angular guitar work and playful rhythms. There is no strong attempt to do it differently from what worked so well for Pavement for their first few albums. The sounds isn’t pared back particularly.
If anything, Malkmus comes across as less deliberately obtuse here. There is a stronger sense of story-telling. The stories are somewhat nonsensical at times, and several might be viewed as eggheady, delving as he does into colonial military parodies, classical architecture references and an epic pirate tale:
It all hangs together startlingly well, however. It somehow makes sense as he jumps from a Yul Brunner tribute, to tales of the Pacific Northwest, and a teenager dating an aging coverband frontman with a fondness for frisbee and Dire Straits.
There is a palpable sense of ease and enjoyment on this album. A man relieved of pressure he presumably no longer wanted making music that amuses him, and entertains me.
File under: Following the right (foot)path
It’s not a great sign when the best track on an album relies heavily on a guest vocalist. Discuss…
It’s also not a great sign when the best track on an album is a cover version… of a rock standard. Discuss…
OK, now that you’re all back, I’ll argue that is somewhat of a problem with this here final album from Make Up (note ongoing subtle name changes).
The track in question is Hey Joe and it closes out the album. It is a fantastic rambling 7 minute plus version of this classic, with some luscious lead vocals by someone called Heather Worley (Google tells me nothing about her!).
Strangely, it is the most Make-Up of all the songs on the album, with some strong vocal interactions, a fierce groove, a pounding rhythm break mid-song and the appropriate level of hysterics.
Alas, the rest of the album doesn’t have that vibe. The band appears to have abandoned much of the ‘gospel yeah yeah’ sound they’d espoused on previous recordings. Instead we are left with an album that feels like a (less indulgent) Jon Spencer Blues Explosion album. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it renders this my least played release from this combo.
File under: Save some dough and buy their other albums first
I’m a fan of an album that really needs to be listened to in one hit.
This second studio effort from the funkiest white Washingtonians fits that bill from intro to outro. It also captures the essence of this band incredibly well.
This is a band that loves a groove, a screamed plea and maintaining a vibe.
Frontman Ian Svenonius continues to destroy his vocal chords with exaberated exhortations bemoaning his romantic treatment, while invited as all along for his gospel music rides. If there is a church somewhere that presents the righteous message in just such a format then I might well get out of bed one Sunday morning, don a natty suit and mosey on down (conscious of likely lightening strikes).
The album is not quite perfect. It curiously loses a little momentum and energy in the back half, (what I suspect might well be ‘side 2’ on any vinyl version), with a groove ever so slightly on the somnolent side. Nevertheless, I feel Live in the Rhythm Hive:
File under: Make-up your Mind
I have particularly fond memories of this Washington DC outfit striding onto the stage one sunny afternoon at the Meredith Music Festival.
They were unkown to me, and to most in the crowd. Yet, within minutes, I was hooked.
The black-clad quartet beguiled us with a unique mix of punk and funk and bluster. As on this debut release, they were pedalling some patented “gospel yeah yeah sound”.
It’s all about style, about laying down a primitive bass line, some sparse guitars and crooning over it in a falsetto Screaming Jay Hawkins style. We’re urged, call and response style, to drive some mythical revolution through our embrace of all things Make-Up.
This is The Cramps without the rubber and perversion, and one of the rare instances where a gang of white folks playing garage manage to capture the true funk-gospel vibe.
This is a live album, but it still doesn’t quite capture the pure adrenalin rush of seeing them on stage. This video does go a little closer (even if the sound quality is on the poor side):
And here’s a cracking track off the album:
In hindsight, I’m wondering whether the band wore red on stage…
File under: I’m there