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ArtCrimes

Hurley, Michael & Ida – “Ida Con Snock” – [Gnomonsong]

ArtCrimes   3/8/2010   CD, Country

Now in his fifth decade of recording, Michael Hurley (code name, Snock) has recorded for Folkways, Warners, Rounder, and any number of small labels (like Gnomonsong), in most cases without much label interference, yielding a truly idiosyncratic and sometimes shambolic catalog of distinctive original tunes and covers of folk, country, jazz and standards. Constantly working with different sets of musicians, this release finds him supported by Ida, a group with varied instrumentation but roughly hoeing the same ditch Neil Young and others dug in the early 70s, with pedal steel, some fiddle, light drumming and bits of pretty background vocals. The covers this time out include “Rag Mopp,” the silly hit by the Ames Brothers that’s a perfect fit for Hurley, and a medley of Scottish/Irish folksongs, “Loch Lomond / Molly Malone”. Meanwhile, “It Must Be Gelatine” and “Hoot Owls” are typical of the more oddball fare he’s served up all these years. “Wildegeeses” and “Valley of Tears” are slower, prettier tunes. (( crimes ))

Overstreet, Reverend Louis – “With His Sons and The Congregation of St. Luke’s…” – [Mississippi Records]

ArtCrimes   2/11/2010   12-inch, Blues

subtitled “His Guitar, His Sons And The Congregation Of St. Luke’s Powerhouse Church Of God In Christ”
This is a resequenced and revised version of a 1962 Arhoolie LP (adapting the original Arhoolie sleeve art) with the Rev. Louis Overstreet (1947-1980) and his sons at one of their “services” in Phoenix, AZ. This revised edition adds some recordings from a club date in Berkeley, 1963. A “service” for Overstreet is a wild, raucous blast furnace of sanctified primal gospel anchored by Overstreet’s Strat and his sons’ percussion, with vocals by all concerned. Chris Strachwiz (still running Arhoolie today) first heard Overstreet doing his gospel work out in the street in front of a bar in the South, and then arranged to record him some years later after tracking him down again in Phoenix. Along the lines of Reverend Charlie Jackson and other electric guitar wielding holy men already in KFJC’s library, Overstreet claimed to have been chosen by God to learn the guitar and preach the good news. The first and last tracks are lengthy and furious, throwing you into the wild communion already in progress; the shorter tracks are more orderly and self contained. (( crimes ))

Jansch, Bert – “L.A. Turnaround” – [Drag City]

ArtCrimes   2/1/2010   12-inch, International

Nearly 10 years into his career by this point, and having just split from the folk/jazz Pentangle, Bert Jansch was enticed to sign with the prog-heavy UK label, Famous Charisma Label. The first of 3 releases for Charisma, this one is perhaps the most eclectic and interesting of them. At the time, Mike Nesmith of the Monkees was doing country flavored work with the First National Band, and he was brought in to produce this LP with Bert, using FNB steel guitarist Red Rhodes plus an LA-based rhythm section on some tracks. Jesse Ed Davis, sometimes sideman for Taj Mahal, brought his tough slide sound for a few tracks, giving a bit of a Little Feat or Ry Cooder edge on tracks like “Open Up the Watergate”. The result is a fuller sound than usual for Bert’s casual (and very Scottish) vocals and his always complex and driving acoustic guitar. Instrumentals “Chambertin” and “Lady Nothing” are more typical of his earlier solo work, and “Needle of Death” is a remake of one of his very first original songs, sounding a bit like Neil Young’s “Ambulance Blues” in this countryish re-arrangement. Outtakes from these sessions are collected on a companion CD along with a short Quicktime film of a British session for the album. ((( crimes )))

Asylum Street Spankers – “Gods Favorite Band” – [Yellow Dog Records]

ArtCrimes   2/1/2010   CD, Country

Live recordings made in their hometown of Austin TX in 2006 are the source for this new release from the ever-changing Asylum Street Spankers, still led as ever by Christina Marrs and Wammo. Founding member Guy Forsyth is present here as well, along with longtime hipster Stanley Smith on clarinet, retired from the road but still making it to hometown gigs when he can. The group had done “Gospel Brunches” in its earliest days, and they have returned to that repertoire here. You gotta have big voices to belt out these classics, and they have that covered. Two originals by Wammo touch on other religious issues: “Volkswagen Thing” is a country pastiche about what God might drive in to avoid detection, and “Right and Wrong” is more blues-oriented and venturing outside pure Christian thought. But the core material here comes from country blues, spirituals, a neo-gospel selection by Gordon Gano, and one Gershwin classic, “It Aint Necessarily So”. Tune in to KFJC’s webcast of the Asylum Street Spankers’ LIVE MIC at KFJC on FEB. 23! ((( crimes )))

Wainwright, Loudon III – “High Wide & Handsome” – [2nd Story Sound Records]

ArtCrimes   12/8/2009   CD, Country

Loudon Wainwright III is not someone we usually associate with the performance of other people’s songs, but he’s long admired the songs of old-time banjo picker Charlie Poole’s catalog, which serve as the starting point for this collection of new and old songs, all songs either performed by Poole during his short (but at points, hugely successful) career in the 30s, or newly-composed songs by Wainwright and producer Dick Connette (who also sings & plays here) which are informed by Poole’s colorful, tragic life. Joining Wainwright are various singing members of his extended family (a sibling, three children, two ex-wives, and numerous ex-sisters-in-law) as well as session players from the folk, jazz, & bluegrass world. The new material here often comments on songs Poole himself did, or provides a narrative to incidents in his life. This is not so much a traditional music album as it is a soundtrack for a never-made docudrama about Poole’s life, with enough bumps and turns for a mini-series or two (and Wainwright confesses to having envisioned a screenplay for a film about Poole many years ago, in which he would take the lead role). ((( crimes )))

PGM: CD2 #6 instrumental

Mapfumo, Thomas & The Acid Band – “Hokoyo!” – [Water]

ArtCrimes   12/7/2009   CD, International

Thomas Mapfumo has long been associated with a type of music called “Chimurenga,” the Shona word for “struggle” or “uprising,” which gained prominence as colonial Rhodesia’s white minority rule began to crumble, leading to an independent Zimbabwe. The Chimurenga style bases its guitar parts on the sound of the mbira (thumb piano), and uses the Shona language. Although the name “Acid Band” might suggest some psychedelic aspects, this is in fact nothing of the sort… the music is upbeat in tempo (the drummer rides the high hat pretty relentlessly throughout), sometimes influenced by Western R&B and soul styles of the late 70s (particularly track 1) but mostly more obviously African with interlocking vocals and percussive guitar similar to the Jit and Zouk styles. The acid side of the story perhaps is in the corrosive spirit of the lyrics, which recast the struggle for independence in mythical terms, drawing from Shona legends. This music spoke directly to the Shona people while not seeming so obviously subversive to the ruling class. Mapfumo went on to become more radical with his later work, a sort of Zimbabwean Bob Marley. ((( crimes )))

Group Bombino – “Guitars From Agadez Vol. 2” – [Sublime Frequencies]

ArtCrimes   12/7/2009   CD, International

Volume 2 of Sublime Frequencies “Agadez” series focuses on a single group, Group Bombino, working in the Toureg style played by desert nomads. This music is guitar based and tied to the Toureg’s struggle for self-determination, with tempos matching the gait of the camel (in fact, a camel is one of the first things we hear on track 1). Bombino himself does most lead vocals. The first 4 tracks are studio tracks, played on acoustics with handclaps and sparse percussion, Tracks 5-9 are electric live performances recorded (with adequate-to-good sonic quality) in Agadez with full drum kit and the spiky electric guitar interplay we associate with groups like Terakaft. These latter tracks are far more Western sounding, although sung in the local language. Although somewhat intended as a call to action for Toureg independence, this is also potentially some party-down stuff, especially track 9.

PGM: Track 2 has a spoken intro to start. Tracks 3-4 segue with ambient desert sounds. (((( crimes )))))

Muldaur, Geoff, and The Texas Sheiks – “Geoff Muldaur and The Texas Sheiks” – [Tradition & Moderne GmbH]

ArtCrimes   11/30/2009   CD, Country

Geoff Muldaur has a long, long history with the jug band sound, having been in Jim Kweskin’s jug band group 40 years ago, which was to spin off three or four future bandleaders after disbanding. (That’s where he met his ex-wife to be, Maria.) He’s got the right voice for this material (he sings about half of the leads here), understands the terrain well, and has a crackerjack band of musicians from Austin and beyond (including Berkeley old-timer Suzy Thompson). Steel guitar all-star Cindy Cashdollar is a standout, as well, and Jim Kweskin himself is here too, singing lead on “Fan It,” “Under the Chicken Tree,” and “Blues in the Bottle.” This project was built around giving support to Stephen Bruton, longtime lead guitarist for Kris Kristofferson and many others, during a period when he was suffering from cancer (he passed away May 2009). The sessions were pretty relaxed and exactly what this music needs in terms of polish. It’s all cover tunes, with jug band, hokum, & country blues sources. Skip James’ “Hard time Killing Floor” is as chilling as it ought to be, with a falsetto vocal from Johnny Nicholas. Between this and Maria’s new release, “Garden of Joy,” the jug band scene is in good health for another few years. ( (crimes) )

Things About Comin’ My Way [coll] – [Black Hen Music]

ArtCrimes   11/25/2009   Blues, CD

The Mississippi Sheiks were a hugely popular Mississippi duo (with a couple of other floating members) playing a very stripped-down and aggressive style of country blues in the 1930s. Among their key songs are the still-played-today “Sittin’ on top of the World” (later versions cut by Cream, Doc Watson, and the Grateful Dead) and “World is Going Wrong” which Bob Dylan modified for an album title of one of his two collections of folk and blues cover tunes. As a tribute to their catalog, the Vancouver-based Black Hen label recorded new versions of Sheiks songs, some of them instrumentals, with an eye towards updating them rather than doing a strict recreation of their sound. The results range from the still plenty blues-oriented John Hammond and Kelly Joe Phelps, to Danny Barnes’ banjo pickin,’ to jazz inflected Bill Frisell and Madeleine Peyroux and the almost art song approach of Robin Holcomb. As is always the case with these collections, some of this may not float your boat but in general many of these performances capture the spirit of the Sheiks, if not their actual sound. ((crimes))

Muldaur, Maria – “and Her Garden of Joy” – [Stony Plain Records]

ArtCrimes   11/25/2009   CD, Country

Once upon a time, Maria Muldaur (then named Maria D’Amato) was a member of the Even Dozen Jug Band, along with John Sebastian in his pre-Lovin’ Spoonful days, and she also spent some time in Jim Kweskin’s Jug Band. Here we are some 40 years later and she’s once again playing with Sebastian, Kweskin, and a cast of other jug band enthusiasts (Taj Mahal, David Grisman, and Dan Hicks among them). With a mixture of covers from the jug band era and new tunes written somewhat in that style, as well as a couple of new swing tunes by Dan Hicks, it’s a bit of a way-back machine but a nice change of pace. Some of the topical tunes from the (first) depression are still relevant today. Muldaur has always had a great voice for this kind of music, and it’s clear she has considers this music, and American blues in general, to be a big influence for her. ((crimes))

Guthrie, Woody – “My Dusty Road” – [Rounder Records]

ArtCrimes   11/2/2009   CD, Country

Rounder has collected about 50 newly-remastered Woody Guthrie tracks from 1944 for this 4 CD box. The consumer version comes in a little suitcase full of paper ephemera as well as session notes, but we’ll make do with a single sheet of track titles! It’s not intended as a definitive set of Guthrie’s 1944 sessions… that would be the 100+ tracks on “The Asch Recordings,” which draw on the same set of sessions with perhaps slightly lesser sound quality. Woody Guthrie’s influence over a broad swath of American Folk, Country, Rock and even Pop music is undeniable… even if you can’t stand Woody’s monotonous voice and the rudimentary guitar accompaniment. But he knew how to deliver a story – or a call for social change – and that’s what will hold your attention, if anything. His original tunes speak directly, and his versions of traditional songs (several of them made popular by the Carter Family) are sometimes more detailed and coherent than better known versions. The discs here are sequenced with themes, grouping many of his best known songs on one disc, his topical songs on another, traditional songs on the third, and the final disc with songs arranged for the threesome of Woody, Cisco Houston, and Sonny Terry (although Houston and Terry do appear on the other discs as well)… some of these are instrumentals, party songs, and uptempo dance tunes, like “Guitar Rag” and a medley of square dance favorites which manages to insert yet another version of Woody’s own “Going Down the Road”. (((crimes)))

Rose, Jack & Black Twig Pickers, The – “Jack Rose & The Black Twig Pickers” – [Klang Industries]

ArtCrimes   9/22/2009   12-inch, Country

The Black Twig Pickers have been playing old-time traditional (and new songs in that style) for a few years. Although known for his solo work in improv-oriented expansions of John Fahey’s “American primitive” approach, Jack Rose has also played a more traditional repertoire with Twigs member Mike Gangloff for both recordings and gigs, and in this recording (made in 2008), he integrates himself into the Black Twig Pickers lineup, adding his solid fingerpicking (with some slide work). They do several trad. blues and old-time tunes here, along with a few new versions of Rose’s original instrumentals… but nothing too exploratory; they play his tunes largely as if they were traditional. Not all the songs are done with vocals, but the vocals that are here are very much done in an old-time style as well (although the first track has a somewhat distorted vocal sound that could have been intentional). Rose has always been a forceful player in his solo work, but it’s also interesting to hear him serve as the rhythm section much of the time here. (((crimes)))

Songs of The African Coast [coll] – [Yarngo]

ArtCrimes   9/9/2009   CD, International

A new label, Yarngo, debuts with this reissue (and expansion) of field recordings made in Liberia, Africa, in 1948 by ethno-musicologist Arthur Alberts (eventually part of his “Tribal, Folk and Cafe Music of West Africa” collection, first issued on 78 rpm discs). Fans of African field recordings may be expecting the ethnic percussion and vocal styles in village communities heard on any number of Nonesuch Explorer releases, but this music has a far more Westernized approach, with piano accompaniment by the blind Prof. Howard B. Hayes (who also composed a number of the songs) that suggests the influence of American jazz and popular song. Hayes does duets with vocalist Malinda Jackson Parker on the first several tracks, and the balance of the disc features the Greenwood Singers, doing a slightly more folk-based approach with an ensemble, sometimes doing their own versions of songs also done by Hayes & Parker. There are similarities to Bahamian and Calypso styles, so fans of the Pindar Family, Joseph Spence and Mighty Sparrow may enjoy the wit and charm of many songs here. (((crimes)))

www.yarngomusic.com

Denny, Sandy – “She Moves Through The Fair” – [Stamford Audio]

ArtCrimes   8/23/2009   12-inch, B Library

Sandy Denny achieved her greatest fame as the primary vocalist for Fairport Convention, and through her solo work that followed. But prior to joining Fairport, she had put in time as an authentic folk artist in the London folk club scene of the sixties that featured a few other hugely influential folkies, including Martin Carthy, Bert Jansch, Davey Graham, and Anne Briggs. The music here dates to 1967-1968 and were informal home recordings of Sandy accompanying herself on fairly competent guitar, and the sound quality ranges from merely adequate (the title track) to reasonably good. Although only 5 tracks are included, they do span the full range of Sandy’s interests: two traditional numbers (one of which, the title track, would be recorded later with Fairport), two originals (again, one of which, “Box of Treasure”, would be recorded with Fairport although with a new set of lyrics), and one song by her friend Anne Briggs. (Anne Briggs was later acknowledged in Sandy’s later song “The Pond and the Stream”). These tracks were licensed from Fledg’ling Records’ extensive box set of Sandy’s work, “A Boxful of Treasure,” and appear here on vinyl for the first time. (((crimes)))

I Woke Up One Morning In May [coll] – [Mississippi Records]

ArtCrimes   8/4/2009   12-inch, Blues

Another mysterious vinyl release (limited to 1,000 copies) from Mississippi Records in Portland OR, who don’t actually care to put the name of their company on their releases (I wrote it on the cover myself), and don’t even have a website (all online info about their releases is compiled by third parties). This one is mostly country blues 78s from 1927-1934… not all of them are that uncommon, but there’s a few new additions here for KFJC’s blues holdings. Like some other Mississippi compilations, the mastering quality is very good, and the cover art is appealing, but the annotation is limited: you get artist names and track titles – anything beyond that requires some research (I’ve added year of release on the cover tracklist). Among the tracks we didn’t have at KFJC already, the Buster Johnson track features some rough sounding fiddle, Little Hat Jones’s track was used in “Ghost World”, Louie Lasky is pretty obscure but well regarded among guitar players, and Willie Baker is also very obscure, with a distinctive 12 string sound. >crimes

Panama! 2 [coll] – [Soundway Records]

ArtCrimes   7/22/2009   CD, International

Soundway’s second volume of Panamanian tracks, mostly from single releases during the sixties and seventies influenced by Afro-Cuban jazz, Salsa, Cumbia, American ’70s rock, soul and funk (a Santana-like groove on #6, Bill Withers gets covered on #10), folkloric sources, reggae, samba, and whatever other Latin rhythms were in the air at the time. Cuban call-and-response vocals are pretty widespread here but there’s also some Calypso toasting and American soul singing with creamy backup harmonies as well. The accordions are often used as the instrumental lead, taking the lines that might have gone to the brass in Cuban salsa. Electric guitars also take some of the leads here, and sometimes are used similarly to the Chicha combos from Peru, and there’s enough wah-wah to remind you what years are being considered here. (((crimes)))

Frisell, Bill – “All Hat” [sdtk] – [Emarcy Records]

ArtCrimes   7/14/2009   CD, Soundtrack

Bill Frisell is no stranger to music scoring at this point, having created full-length scores for both period-piece silent films (Buster Keaton) and contemporary films. Having not seen “All Hat,” it would be inappropriate for me to consider whether this is in fact successful music in its original context, but as a collection of 31 (mostly short) instrumental tracks on an audio CD, I can report that the music doesn’t stray too far from the Americana-laced work Frisell has pursued at greater length on his own albums, especially those that feature him in the company of players that can actually play country convincingly. That’s the case here, with Viktor Krauss (bass) and Greg Leisz (steel, mandolin) playing it pretty straight while Frisell uses banjo and acoustics and electrics with varying degrees of signal processing (his use of looping is evident throughout and distortion is used for a change of moodat times). Jenny Scheinman (violin) and Scott Amendola (drums) add some non-traditional edges. He even does some fake “mainstream country” on #23, a resetting of the traditional “John Hardy” as might be heard on a bar jukebox (“John Hardy” gets a variety of treatments here: #1, #6, #17, #23, #31). Get yer music beds here… PGM: SOME TRACKS SEGUE! Preview as necessary. (((crimes)))

Innes, Gary – “How’s The Craic?” – [Skipinnish Records]

ArtCrimes   6/12/2009   CD, International

“How’s the Craic?” is Gary Innes’ first release, on the Scottish label Skipinnish (2005). The Gaelic word “Craic” is pronounced “crack,” and loosely describes the intersection of fun, drink, & music. Gary hails from Spean Bridge, Lochaber, Scotland, far north in the Highlands, and he has played the accordion since age 9, a skill that has already taken him to the USA, Jordan, and Kazakhstan for gigs. He works with two other bands, including the all-accordion Box Club, in addition to his own group; additionally, his participation in the Fort William Shinty Club has brought him much Scottish fame for taking the Camanachd Cup more than once (Shinty is an ancestor of hockey, mostly found in the Highlands but also wherever Scots have migrated). The tunes here are primarily instrumental, exceptions being the Gaelic “Filioro” (track #3) sung by Darren MacLean, the country standard “Tennesse Waltz” (#8), sung by Jen Butterworth, and another Gaelic song “Oran Do Cheit” (#11) sung by Kathleen Graham. (All vocal selections are sung by guests, as Innes does not sing on this release.) This is mainly up-tempo fare, updating traditional Scots dancing styles with faster tempos and trickier time changes and adding a host of instruments including guitar, keyboard, fiddle, pipes, banjo, bass & percussion. Track #9 “Laura’s Wee Tune” is a much slower tune dedicated to a former girlfriend, featuring accordion, pipes, and guitar. (crimes)

Vagabond Opera – “Zeitgeist Beckons, The” – [Vagabond Opera]

ArtCrimes   6/3/2009   CD, International

Vagabond Opera, based in Portland, combines florid, operatic singing styles (male and female), humor, drama, and multi-ethnic musical styles (accordeon often is deployed); the result yields somewhat fragmented cabaret-style act, but unquestionably it’s well-played and sung. This is their third release and definitely is their most ambitious and best produced. A variety of covers gives a good idea of some of their influences: here they do songs by Tom Waits (5), Jacques Brel (12), and Raymond Scott (11), as well as songs sung in more languages than this reviewer could easily determine (Italian, French, Oshtal, & Yiddish among them). Some of the original songs have the feel of show tunes with lots of grand narrative (3, 14)… although the band does stitch together a bit of a story in the accompanying booklet to suggest that a saga is being told, but it’s mainly an opportunity for bandmembers to dress up. Tracks 2 and 13 are somewhat self-referential and would be better experienced in the context of a live performance than on the air. Tracks 6, 8, and 11 are instrumentals. (crimes)

Zappa, Frank – “You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore Vol.3” – [Rykodisc]

ArtCrimes   5/18/2009   B Library, CD

Volume 3 of the 6 part “You Can’t Do That on Stage Anymore” series focuses primarily on FZ’s mid-80s touring bands, playing mainly material from “Sheik Yerbouti,” “The or Us,” “You Are What You Is,” “Ship Arriving Too Late…,” and other vocal-oriented albums that may not be everyone’s favorites. However, these groups were all highly skilled and received ample solo opportunities, especially on the instrumentals: “Zoot Allures,” most of “Drowning Witch,” and a very lengthy “King Kong” that is a composite of completely different bands performing the same song, much as “Hands With a Hammer” is a composite of Terry Bozzio’s drum solos. A reggae-inflected “Sharleena” features Dweezil Zappa, making his stage debut with his father; he shreds with dignity (if perhaps relying too much on the Floyd Rose tremelo). There are also many highly amusing vocal ad libs throughout, some of which are explained in the booklet, and many that are not necessarily appropriate for tea-time. (crimes)