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
I have a surprising amount of this sugar-sweet bubble gum indie-pop stuff in my CD collection.
These are albums full of light, breezy (and brief) tunes with doo-wop backing vocals, hi-energy choruses often from a male-female combo.
So far we’ve seen The Brunettes, Call & Response, as well as their 60s brethren. Some time in the middle of this century we might get to the Canadian masters of this stuff (The Salteens).
This here San Fran combo are slap bang in the middle of this genre, and mine its riches and are burdened with all its negatives.
The most upbeat, infectious tracks (Overcoat, Wonderful and Bub) hit the mark and evoke the silly Saturday afternoon shenanigans you’re looking for:
Elsewhere, the album is too restrained and slight to maintain attention. Songs wander past without you even noticing.
It turns out the lead man from this band went on to found the super successful musically-driven kids show Yo Gabba Gabba, which has a few appearances and contributions from the aforementioned Salteens (among many Indie-music types), including this rather terrifying number:
You can take this genre too far!!
File under: Beware of living life to its fullest
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Tagged album, album review, Beach Boys, bubble gum pop, Call and Response, CD review, indiepop, Majestic, music, music review, pop, Salteens, Scott Schultz, The Brunettes
I have a question for all you music lovers out there: what is your approach to music in a language you don’t understand?
Do you seek out a translation of the lyrics at all? Do you try to imagine what a song might be ‘about’? Or do you just let it wash over you?
This ‘best of’ tunes from South African maestro Mahlasela features songs in a variety of that nation’s languages. Some are in English, such as this one:
Others are impenetrable to me, but it matters little, as Vusi’s voice is truly captivating. He seems to conjure up some universal language of joy and hurt.
He plucks out a rhythm on occasion with his vocals (doing that clicking and breathing thing of his countrymen, but in a less cheesy fashion).
This album purchase followed seeing him live about six years ago, a show that certainly entranced my missus and I. It is still a thrill that this album captures much of the revelatory nature of that show.
On a strange aside, on several songs Mahlasela’s voice evokes Peter Gabriel, yet none of the tunes seemed as contrived or overwrought as Gabriel’s. I wonder if I would think the same thing if I understood the language?
File under: He IS the voice
The decision of Henry Saint Clair Fredericks to adopt a stage name was understandable.
But perhaps instead of the subcontinent’s most famous mausoleum, he could have chosen “Sidney Opera House” (and passed himself off as the part of Sun House’s clan). Or got all funky with “M.Pire State” (and hooked up with a partner called “Bill Ding”).
OK, that’s enough silliness. This is a compilation of (mainly) covers Mahal recording during the 1990s.
This album is slightly warmer and more engaging than the prior reviewee. But, he still isn’t taking many risks with song choices. I’m not sure the world needed another version of Honky Tonk Women, and he manages to underwhelm with one of my favourite standards (John The Revelator).
He does a better job with Mercedes Benz, and one of the rare Mahal-penned tunes here is by far the most fun – as he gets all excited about big-butted belles on Big Legged Mommas Are Back In Style. I was expected Sir Mix-a-Lot to pop up any time with a bit of this:
Searching around for decent Mahal clips, I stumbled upon a series from back in 1972, of which this is the best:
That’s the sort of stuff I’d like to see from him here.
File under: Not arresting enough