519. Vusi Mahlasela – “The Voice”

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

Gig Review – Pugsley Buzzard

I’ve decided to spice up the blog a little by also sharing my views on any live musical shows I might encounter.  I’ll try and build a complex system that allows comparisons so that my end of year rankings are more reliable!

Artist: Pugsley Buzzard and his Trio
Venue: East Brunswick Club, Brunswick, Victoria, Australia
Date: Sunday, 5 February (afternoon show), 2012
Who?: Some bloke from up Sydney way peddling boogie barrelhouse piano blues. Think Tom Waits meets Dr.John.
Crowd?: It was all about quality (i.e. there weren’t more than 25 people there), and our table of 32-40 year olds lowered the average age very considerably.
Best Bits: The swagger, the voice, the tuba (!), the love and respect for the classic sounds of New Orleans, the Truckstop Honeymoon cover.
Could be Better: One or two less solos (that’s you Mr.Drummer!), better miking on tuba, a little more banter
Dream Venue: Your local bar, a juke-joint (whatever that is), somewhere dark, dingy and bourbon-soaked (but without hipsters or singlet wearers)
Dream Lineup: Probably not Tom Waits.  Maybe Chuck E.Weiss, Truckstop Honeymoon, Serena Ryder… and then Sharon Jones to get us all dancing.
Worth a Second Look?: For sure.  He’s playing a residency around the corner (Grumpy’s Green) Wednesdays in March.  I’ll get down to one or two nights.
Give us a look:

518. Taj Mahal – “Blue Light Boogie”

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

517. Taj Mahal – “Señor Blues”

I’m sure I’ve mentioned here more than once that I have a strong preference for the “dirtier” end of the blues music spectrum.

a Album cover Taj Mahal senor blues mind your own business CD reviewBlues should sound raw and dangerous, and if happens to tell of love gone bad or misadventure, all the better.

Taj Mahal doesn’t fit said bill. His recordings (well, certainly this Grammy-winning 1997 set) are slickly produced, and firmly in the jazz-blues domain. He does pick at a guitar better than most, and his vocal stylings ride the groove perfectly, but it is all a little too ‘big band’ and Cosby Show for me to love it.

I feel like a bit of a scrooge in not embracing this album as a classic.  In the end it gets back to my ambivalence to this genre.

Imagine the Commitments fictional setup (without all the pale Irish corniness), and that’s the set-up here.  Too much horns, organ and backing vocals on what are pretty standard ‘interpretations’ from THE songbook (including Mahal’s version of Mr Pitiful).

The best track on here is the least augmented, a sparse cover of a Hank Williams tune Mind your own Business:

More tracks like that might win me over to Mahal’s side of the fence.

File under: ¿dónde está la tierra?

 

516. The Magnetic Fields – “i”

As concept albums go this is one of the least ambitious efforts I can recall. Featuring only songs with titles commencing with “i” (and then listing them in alphabetical order isn’t really a stretch.

If Stephin Merritt was really lazy, he could have simply named fourteen random songs with unrelated titles that comply.

He doesn’t appeared to have cheated on that front, but, irrespective, a singer-songwriter doesn’t have to push too hard to come up with a load of first-person, self-starring lyrics. Not mentioning “I” would have been a bigger ask.

As for the content, the collection is pretty coherent, and with no guest vocalists, much more cohesive than the 69 Love Songs opus. The trade-off is less creativity and whimsy.

At its best, Merritt hits open a few more showtunes that’d please the most critical off-Broadway audience such as I Don’t Believe You, and the Gilbert & Sullivan-like In an Operetta. I Thought You Were My Boyfriend is screaming out for a disco upgrade (and may well have had one already):

There is a bit too much bland fodder on here to warrant much raving, but it is still a worthy entry point into the MF world.

File under: I’ve heard better

Remembering my favourite gigs of 2011

As is par for the course around here of late, I have been tardy in declaring my top gigs from 2011 (to go with my 2010 and 2009 lists):

#5 Foo Fighters and Tenacious D at Sydney Football Stadium, December 8 – simply because stadium rock was such a novelty (and because we were undercover for the persistent rain).  Grohl and co certainly can work a crowd!

#4 Michelle Shocked at Joe’s Pub, New York City, May 29 – captivating dinner and show set up with Michelle revisiting The Texas Campfire Tapes and showcasing some new stuff in a hilarious fashion:

#3 Bright Eyes, Wild Flag & Superchunk Radio City Music Hall, New York City, March 8 – A spectacular show with great supports.

#2 Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears at Bowery Ballroom, New York City, March 26 – So much fun, such a big surprise. Sweaty and groovy and all that…

#1 Bettye Lavette at Cafe Carlyle, New York City, May 25 – this is one of the gigs of my life time. In a fancy piano bar with this compelling chanteuse but metres away.  Her voice and emotion was compelling.

So what were your favourite live outings?

515. Holly Golightly – “God Don’t Like It”

As is my want, I’ll be peppering my M reviews with occasional recent purchases from preceding letters.

My US intro into the recent works of Ms. Golightly, means I do keep eye out for cheap discs from her back catalogue.

While my sense, HG jumps around genres at will, this album from 2000 isn’t too far removed from her current hillbilly schtick.  It’s definitely at the retro, rootsy lo-fi end of the spectrum.

There’s an energetic bluesy feel to the treble-heavy guitar work, and Holly’s vocals hold their own against occasional sweeps of Hawaiian guitar and quite a lot of reverb:

Golightly makes this particular genre look (and sound) extremely easy, but the familiarity and intimacy is a relatively rare thing.  Most importantly she avoids sounding too backward-looking or  precious in recreating a simpler, more plaintive yet painful style of music:

I’ll definitely be seeking out more from her oeuvre.  Anyone got any recommendations?

File under: What would God know?