Ramblin’ Jack Elliott – “a Stranger Here” – [Anti]

humana   3/27/2009   A Library, CD

Country blues: How a 77-year-old can sound as youthful and strong of voice is beyond me, but with his vitality Ramblin??? Jack Elliott is keeping a lot alive–not the least of which is the memory and tradition passed onto him by Woody Guthrie. These songs are much more blues-inspired than folk, but the distinction between the two is unimportant, as the liner notes tell us. What matters is that Ramblin??? Jack has many stories to tell, and whether it???s a simple acoustic guitar backing him up or an accordian and vibraphone, he tells them in an entertaining way. Crack open a beer and mellow out on the front porch in a rocking chair as you let these fine tunes wash over you.
Picks: 7, 5, 9.
PGM: Start looking for songs to end around :08.

Wooden Shjips – “Dos” – [Holy Mountain]

humana   3/26/2009   A Library, CD

Psyche/Garage: This is the second full-length release from San Francisco four-piece Wooden Shjips. They have been compared to the Doors (primarily because the vocals sound so much like Jim Morrison). The first three tracks fall soundly in the realm of psychedelia, and the last two have a more garage-y, krautrock sound. Dusty Jermier is on bass, Eric ???Ripley??? Johnson is on guitar, Nash Whalen is on organ, and Omar Ahsanuddin plays drums. Upbeat, catchy, often repetitive, but in a good way. If you???re looking for a good long psyche-out try 3.
PGM: 1 ends at :05, 5 at :07.
Picks: 2, 1.

Sun RA – “Live At The Horseshoe Tavern” – [Transparency]

humana   3/22/2009   CD, Jazz

Jazz: These are the live recordings of three concerts during 1978 at the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto, and Disc 10 is a 20-minute 1968 radio interview of Sun Ra with several guys at WBAI. Sun Ra sounds anything but humble in this interview in which he explains that he speaks to the world, and has since elementary school, where he taught and led students. The concert discs are truly the eclectic jazz mix that characterizes Sun Ra???s compositions, with Discs 3, 6, and 9 containing more vocalized ???sermons??? and almost sounding like revival meetings. ???Look to the sky…the best things in life are free…sing with the birds…??? This is vintage Sun Ra. See back cover for programming notes.

Boratto, Gui – “Take My Breath Away” – [Kompakt]

humana   3/20/2009   A Library, CD

Electronica/Dance: This second full-length release from the Brazilian electronic music producer starts off rather repetitively, full of frenetic beats and energy. Later, however, the tracks take on a refreshing unique quality, and it was difficult to narrow down my picks. 5 is the only one featuring vocals from Luciana Villanova, and they are lovely. The final track is the only somber one among so many cheerful upbeats, and it is uniquely beautiful with piano by Boratto himself. Enjoy.
Picks: 5, 3, 11.
PGM: 10 ends at :09, 11 at :07. The others end as early as :05.

Last Days – “Safety of The North, The” – [N5MD]

humana   3/7/2009   A Library, CD

If you need a good cry, slap this on the platter and play it end to end. Cinematically exquisite, with an emphasis on the painful aspect of exquisite, Graham Richardson???s (aka Last Days???) 15 songs (or ???scenes???) describe a family???s move from the city to the rural and wild safety of the north. Although nowhere can you be safe from losing someone, and thus the manipulation of emotions through evocative use of simple guitar, piano, electronics, field recordings, voices that whisper and sing lovely lyrics so beautifully (see 2, my favorite). The track titles give you an idea of how each song is going to feel. It???s all moving, sad, and yet hopeful ambience, with 7 being a work of art as life support machine sounds morph into lovely music that again give way to the machines which win out in the end.
PGM: All tracks end as early as :26 (track 15), except 4 which tracks into 5, and 14 which tracks into 15.

Boston Spaceships – “Planets Are Blasted, The” – [Guided By Voices Inc.]

humana   3/7/2009   12-inch, A Library

Pop punk: Out of Ohio come these nicely penned songs by Robert Pollard. Chris Slusarenko on guitars, bass, and keyboards, and John Moen on drums and percussion back Pollard???s vocals to pleasing effect. Mellow prettiness mixes with basically good garage-y punk (reminiscent of the Beatles), all strengthened by Pollard???s erudite if confusing lyrics (see record sleeve for lyrics). Enjoy!
Try: 2, 6, 11, 3, 10, 13.
PGM: Very small segue between A2 and A3.
FCC: B7: ???shit???

Mute Socialite – “Cheap Clocks/Violet Smith” – [Dephine Knormal Music]

humana   3/6/2009   7-inch, A Library

This short outing by Mute Socialite shows the band???s fondness for free jazz, improv, and noise. Side A is peppy, chaotic, and appealing, featuring Liz Albee???s trumpet. It???s obvious that there???s a structure to the chaos. Side B starts off with scraping noise. Melodic organization enters in, although there???s a quick return to the frenetic. The song has phases and there are screaming and voices in it. It???s full of stops and starts and is my least favorite of the two. A is 5:40, B is 6:27.

Heavy Hands – “Smoke Signals” – [Language of Stone]

humana   3/6/2009   12-inch, A Library

This is rocking psyche as opposed to the shoegaze psyche of Citay. This New York City trio of Ambassador Hazy on gutiar and vocals, Mystical Revelation on bass, and Cristal Voyager on drums are heavy-handed on the psyche aspect of things, but it works for them. The B side is stronger than the A, featuring unique openings. A3 and B5 start out slow but have cool change-ups in tempo that bump the songs up a notch. Every song has lyrics that are hard to make out but often sound like Jim Morrison. Picks: B8, B6, A5.

Marissa Nadler – “Little Hells” – [Kemado Records]

humana   3/1/2009   A Library, CD

Dream folk: Marissa Nadler???s unmistakable soprano vocals come lilting on a wind of surreal, haunting bliss on her fourth full-length release. It flows along on the river of notes from her acoustic guitar, telling beautiful, sad tales. Most of the songs are very simply set to piano, guitar, or organ, but drums and lap steel, synth, theremin, and other guitars join in quite nicely at times, especially on 3, where the drum adds a heartbeat to make ???Mary Come Alive???. As Nadler sings in 7, ???I???m more than blue, I???m violet.??? Gorgeous lyrics, melancholy vocals, heartwrenching melodies–truly Nadler at her best.
PGM: 1 and 9 end at :03; 2 and 5 at :09; 6 and 10 at :06.
Picks: 3, 4, 7, 8, 10.

Bitter Tears, The – “”Jam Tarts In The Jakehouse”” – [Carrot Top Records]

humana   2/28/2009   A Library, CD

Their myspace page says the Bitter Tears sound like ???Sour Vaudevillians on a joy ride with Webb Pierce and the Vienna Boys Choir.??? I say these 10 songs are jaunty, quirky, and fun, and I???d love to see the band live, which I hear is essential (the front man has been known to wear a wedding gown). Playing ???dead genres??? of western swing, showtunes, and polka, these guys deliver a nice selection highlighted by off-beat lyrics, accordion, horns, strings, guitars, and vocals. I???ve rated them on the back.
3WR: Fun Folky Humor
PGM: Look for songs to end as early as :07.

Plumerai – “Untitled” – [Bmi]

humana   2/27/2009   A Library, CD

Post-punk gypsy: Boston band Plumerai put out these two songs at the end of 2008 to whet our appetites for more in 2009. As always, Elizabeth Ezell???s sultry vocals offer their signature charm and are complemented by Martin Newman on guitar, James Newman on bass, and Todd Richards on drums. Clara Kebabian joins Plumerai on this outing with her outstanding violins that add a folk flare to the edgy, upbeat first track. Track 2 is indeed ???A Slow One??? with its calm guitars and violin, although the drums pick up the pace at the climax.
PGM: 1 ends at :12, 2 at :03.

Emeralds – “What Happened” – [No Fun Productions]

humana   2/27/2009   A Library, CD

Ambient drone: John Elliott (synth), Steve Hauschildt (synth), and Mark McGuire (guitar) form Emeralds, a Cleveland-based improv group who have been compared to Tangerine Dream. Shimmering synths leave you awash and ???Alive in the Sea of Information??? (1); 2 starts and ends damaged sounding but there???s an oasis of guitar pulsing in the midst of sounds like bird chirps and helicopter whirs; 3 is a dreamy interlude that makes you wish being ???Up in the Air??? felt this trancey and good; 4 and 5 are more somber and contain sounds like buzz saws and locusts fading in and out, but 4 features a gentle guitar as well. Layers of ambience fit for a drone-starved palate.
PGM: All songs end at :04.

Ethnic Heritage Ensemble – “Mama’s House Live 35th Anniversary Project” – [Katalyst Entertainment]

humana   2/21/2009   CD, Jazz

Jazz: This is a recording of a live February 2006 performance by the Chicago-based Ethnic Heritage Ensemble (EHE). To say that this band, who through 35 years has had many incarnations, is tied to anything earthly is a misstatement, however. Ever since Kahil El???Zabar returned to Chicago from Ghana and formed the band whose intention was to combine African American music with traditional African music, the EHE has sought to transcend walls that would box music in. Joining the multi-percussionist, vocalist, and composer El???Zabar here are young and talented Corey Wilkes on trumpet and Chicago sax legend Ernest Khabeer Dawkins. Picks: 3, 5, 4.
PGM: All songs end as early as :18 with clapping; 6 includes a retired history professor???s spoken description of griot starting at 1:29.

Odd Nosdam – “T.I.M.E. Soundtrack” – [Anticon.]

humana   2/20/2009   A Library, CD

David P. Madson of Berkeley (by way of Ohio) wrote and produced these tunes for the soundtrack of the 2007 Element Skateboards film This Is My Element. Although the first half of this instrumental CD seems mainly geared to warm you up for the better second half, all of it has the trademark beats and ambience we???ve come to expect of Odd Nosdam, the ???maestro of beat-driven collage??? who once again shows he???s in his own element. Jel appears on 1, 7, and 9.
PGM: 2 tracks into 3, and 3 into 4. 10 ends at :07, and 12 ends suddenly at :06. 13 ends at :05.
Picks: 8, 6, 9, 4, 10.

Scratch and Company – Chapter 1, The Upsetters [coll] – [Clocktower Records]

humana   2/13/2009   12-inch, Reggae

Lee Scratch Perry teams up with Brad Osborne to produce a fine offering of upbeat dub and reggae. Read the album cover for Brad Osborne???s glowing praise of Lee Perry. My favorite offerings are circled, and they include vocals. Osborne himself plays flute on A5, and B3 features Scratch???s distinctive voice. The Barrett family and Reggie Earl ???Chinna??? Smith are on this album as well. Enjoy!

Gamelon Son of Lion – “Sonogram” – [Innova/American Composers]

humana   2/7/2009   A Library, CD

As the name suggests, herein lie 2 CDs containing nearly 2 hours of gamelan music–not one minute of which is boring! How a collective of composers (including Denman Maroney, Barbara Benary, Laura Liben, and Daniel Goode, among many others) based in New York City manage to create innovative, fresh sounds for the traditional Indonesian gamelan percussion instruments is nothing less than miraculous and beautiful. The liner notes are fascinating and crucial to a full appreciation of each song. Disc I, Track 2 has a musicbox version of the Beatles??? ???Yesterday.??? Disc I, Track 5 features tin cans, while Disc I, Track 7 uses glass. Disc II, Tracks 1-7 contain a tribute to 9-11, and the last track gives you a happy klezmer ending with clarinet and gamelan. You have to sample it for yourself to believe it. I???ve circled my favorites on the back.
PGM: Early endings marked on CD back.

Mr. Scruff – “Ninja Tuna” – [Ninja Tune]

humana   2/6/2009   A Library, CD

Electronica/Dance: I wish I could apprentice with Mr. Scruff. He knows how to DJ. Alice Russell (2) and Andreya Triana (9) bring their sultry voices to this effort. Quantic (3), Roots Manuva (6), and Pete Simpson (stellar on 12) lend their hip vocals as well. Danny Breaks helps out on 7, and Andrew Kingslow is ever-present, most notably on keys. Mr. Scruff demonstrates his outstanding programming skills on each and every track. It is clear how he can hold a club mesmerized for an entire night as he is at the controls, choosing the rotation of funk, soul, jazz, hip hop, and rhythms with care and absolute mastery.
Picks: 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13.

Palais Schaumburg – “S/T” – [Phonogram]

humana   2/6/2009   12-inch, A Library

A band that existed in Germany for a few short years in the early 1980s, Palais Schaumburg is characterized by a frenetic, bass-driven weirdness that you could dance to if you had enough energy. The lyrics, translated on the inside sleeve, lead to headaches if you try to analyze them, so just let the percussion peppered with piano, guitar, synth and horns by Thomas Fehlmann, and treated voices that often sound like they???re switching between 45 and 33 rpm wash over you as you indulge in this avant-garde effort.
Try: B5, A3, A4, B1, B3.

Yellowman Feat. Fathead – “Just Cool” – [Vp Records]

humana   1/31/2009   CD, Reggae

Jamaican Yellowman (so-called because of his albinism) exhibits his signature rude reggae and dancehall DJ skills here on these tracks from 1982 that have been remastered. Fathead joins him with his ???oinks??? and ???ribbits,??? among other vocalizations. Every tune is upbeat, if not clean. The last two are bonus, longer tracks.
FCC: 1, 3, 10, 12

Baker, Steven – “Lunar Etudes – Time Differentials” – [Edgetone Records]

humana   1/31/2009   A Library, CD

Line this one up for the Day of Drone! Five tracks that represent a sonic exploration of the moon???s orbit of the earth. Baker builds instruments such as the Chalice, Microtonal Drone, and Leaf Springs on Daf–all out of metal and woodwork–to convey harmonics that inspire meditation. Thollem McDonas appears on 2 with a 117-year-old Cornish pump organ. Track 4 is appealing with its sound resembling gamelan bells, very intense and trance-inducing.

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