Archive for the ‘review’ Category

Concert Review: The Americana Music Honors & Awards, Nashville TN, September 16 2015

Thursday, October 8th, 2015

I recently attended the Americana Music Honors & Awards show in Nashville, Tennessee. Wait, wait: stay with me here. While it’s true that I’m not known far and wide as a fan (much less an aficionado) of the genre, I’m increasingly finding that a slice of it now and then does appeal to me. In fact, upon attending and covering a previous AmericanaFest (and the attending conferences) in 2012, I came away rating it one of the best music festivals I’d ever experienced. More than three years later, I stand by that assessment.

As in 2012, a highlight of the entire multiple-day extravaganza was, for me, the awards show. Not that I have any special interest in award shows, but the nature of this one – highlighting the best that the big-tent genre has to offer – means that it represents an excellent sampler of what’s hot, so to speak.

The seats in the historic Ryman Auditorium aren’t comfortable (and they serve to remind me of one of several reasons behind my leaving the Catholic church half a lifetime ago), and the already scheduled-to-be-long-show was all but guaranteed to run well over time (which it did), but the show nonetheless made an excellent way to spend a Nashville evening.

One of popular music’s most engaging personalities, the genre-spanning Jim Lauderdale was once again the emcee. His easygoing banter made the sometimes long breaks between acts and awards (while the set crew rearranged the stage for the next act) go by quickly. The award introductions – and for the most part, the acceptance speeches – were generally far from memorable; the scripted banter served mainly to demonstrate which personalities were comfortable speaking onstage (Robyn Hitchcock, for example) and which weren’t (some male-female duo whose name escaped me, but whose male half reminded me of a Jack Black character).

A couple of the artists who won gave notable acceptance speeches: The MavericksRaul Malo got in a subtle jab about politics and American xenophobia without mentioning anyone by name, and Buffy Sainte-Marie had some very moving words in accepting her Free Speech in Music award. Elsewhere, God got thanks from Ricky Skaggs, and Don Henley (Lifetime Achievement Trailblazer) seemed to revel in finding a new audience that – unlike the rock world – doesn’t despise him and his every utterance.

I’m a huge fan of Steppenwolf, but I’ll be damned if I can sort out why John Kay was there. Props to his co-presenter — or Jim Lauderdale; I forget which — for calling out Monster as an important political statement. He didn’t even mention the new 2CD singles collection from Real Gone Music; c’mon, John, get a plug in there! (Oh, now I remember: he presented Buffy Sainte-Marie with her award.)

One supposes that a genre that used to take its sartorial cues from Nudie’s (these days from Manuel, whose clothing work looks quite similar) wouldn’t find the handmade “trophies” tacky, but from my vantage point, the garishly painted and decorated instrument facsimiles that passed for trophies were lurid and cheap looking at the same time. But hey, I didn’t win one, so no worries.

The musical number that opened the show featured a four-man gospel group and a three-woman gospel group, backed by the full house band. It put anyone who didn’t already know on notice that Americana is meant to include all sorts of indigenous American musical forms; some see it as an alternative to Garth Brooks, Jason Aldean and bro-country, but it’s much deeper and more meaningful than that (the dubious lauding of Don Henley notwithstanding).

Most of the acts up for the big awards took a turn onstage, making the musical parts of the evening very much a showcase event. Rhiannon Giddens (formerly of Carolina Chocolate Drops, whom I saw at the 2012 show) floored the audience with a multi-part number that showcased her fiddle playing and her stunning ability to sing both field-holler style gospel-blues and more commercial-sounding styles backed by a full band.

Lee Ann Womack sounded to this Americana novitiate very much like a cross between Tammy Wynette and Loretta Lynn, proving that her star hasn’t diminished, even if her chart activity has (somewhat). Both Houndmouth and Shakey Graves showed why they were in the running for Emerging Artist of the Year. Shakey Graves’ performance was easily a highlight of the entire show.

Keb Mo’ came out onstage, and to his left was a black hollowbody Gibson guitar on a stand. “Ladies and gentlemen, meet Lucille,” he said, before embarking on a heartfelt tribute to the recently departed BB King. He followed that with a performance — pointedly not playing Lucille, but instead serenading her — that paid additional tribute to King, while sounding more like George Benson.

But (other than that, and Giddens’ bravura turn) the best musical performances came from the established artists: Los Lobos (there to accept a Lifetime Achievement Award), Buffy Sainte-Marie (her still-relevant “Universal Soldier”), and the Mavericks. When the Mavericks won the Duo/Group of the Year, Malo gasped, “Holy shit! We won something!” He also won the biggest laugh of the evening for that quip.

The only artist who disappointed was one Nikki Lane; her shtick seemed lifted from the late Amy Winehouse, clumsily twanged up for an Americana audience. Even with Don Was out sick, the house band was superb in that Nashville way, with Little Feat‘s Bill Payne on piano among a who’s who of session players.

As I mentioned, the entire affair ran very much over time, and near the end quite a number of audience members (and performers) left so that they could make it to one of the multiple venues hosting showcase musical sets later that evening. I stayed until the very end, looking forward to the everybody-onstage closing number. This time it was Los Lobos, joined by, well, everybody backstage who had (or even didn’t have) a guitar. Lauderdale grabbed his acoustic, too. That whole all-in affair was sloppy as those things invariably are, worsened by the mid-song appearance of that male-female duo I mentioned already. They didn’t pay much attention to their fellow musicians; at the end of a verse, they both opened their mouths to sing, and their miscue threw several of the other players off their game. But everybody had fun, as did the audience.

The 2015 Americana Music Honors & Awards will be broadcast (in edited form) on PBS’ Austin City Limits later this year.

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Bill Dahl and I Discuss “Groove & Grind: Rare Soul ’63-’73″

Wednesday, October 7th, 2015

From a critical perspective, there’s not a whole lot to be said or written about Groove & Grind: Rare Soul ’63 – ’73. One either gets it, or doesn’t. Suffice to say that if you would enjoy hearing the contents of a jukebox in a 1960s African American juke joint, or if you dig the sides collected in the various sprawling Stax box sets, then you’ll luxuriate in the hundred-plus songs on this four-disc set. And you won’t have heard most of them before.

The box set’s liner notes offer something of an apology/justification for the dodgy sound quality on some of Groove & Grind‘s cuts; those words – though sincere – are not needed: the sound quality is just fine, and the quality of the music precludes any need for excuses. The rarity of some of these cuts more than justifies their inclusion here, and would do so even if they didn’t make great listening. Music historian and liner notes author Bill Dahl (author of Motown: the Golden Years) admits that he did his research on these often-unknown acts the old (or perhaps new) fashioned way: “between the internet, books and record” labels/sleeves, “you kinda piece it together as best you can.” Occasionally, he admits, “You can’t find anything about an act at all, and that’s distressing.” But he notes that a good bit of information – even if it’s merely context – can be gleaned from looking at the labels on the 45s. Dahl has a few – not many – of Groove & Grind‘s sides in his own record collection, but for others, he relied on photos of labels and other information he managed to unearth. He is careful to note that although “there’s a lot of information on the internet, sometimes it’s wrong. So you’ve got to be careful.”

And careful he was. Across 120-plus pages of the hardbound-book format of Groove & Grind, Dahl provides just the right amount of background on these soul tunes. Because as Dahl and I agreed during our conversation, the kind of person who’d pick up this 4CD set is the sort of character who will delight in the fruits of his careful research. Dahl’s writing is an essential companion to the music itself. (Those who crave the deep kind of background that this sort of a project requires will enjoy following some of the online links Dahl cites in his source notes; those links will provide hours of rewarding reading for the music anoraks among us.)

Liner notes author Bill Dahl
A handful of the artists spotlighted on Groove & Grind remain active today: Bettye LaVette, Bobby Rush and Eddie Floyd, for example. But even in their cases – and in the case of Ike and Tina Turner (“You Can’t Miss Nothing That You Never Had,” a 1963 side on the small Sonja label) – Groove & Grind focuses on material that only the hardest of hardcore fans would have known about, much less heard. Dahl and box set producer James Austin sought to find a balance. “I was trying to find a few records by people whom [listeners] would have heard of real well,” says Dahl. “If we just had 112 acts you’ve never heard of, people wouldn’t buy it! So we included a few names that would grab people, hoping that they’d hear the other stuff, and love it too.”

One of the things that Dahl’s liner notes convey is the manner in which pop music history is woven together: the way that, say, George Goldner of Red Bird Records had a hand in these tracks. It’s almost as if, had these tunes become hits – and many of them sound as if they well could have – then the artists involved might have gone on to do more noteworthy and commercially successful work. Dahl mentions Sir Mack Rice – “people know him as a songwriter; he did the original ‘Mustang Sally,’” as an artist who didn’t quite reach the commercial potential his music deserved. His “Gotta Have My Baby’s Love” is one of Dahl’s favorite tracks on this set. Ironing Board Sam is another: “He deserved a better shake than he got,” says Dahl. “He had a keyboard on an ironing board, for God’s sake! That alone should’ve got him something.” Sam’s “Original Funky Bell Bottoms” is included on the set’s fourth disc, subtitled Funky Soul.

A few of the tunes on Groove & Grind will be familiar, but not in the versions found here. “I really like Lezli Valentine‘s ‘Love on a Two Way Street,’” says Dahl of the 1969 single. “It’s the original version, incidentally. I like a lot better than The Moments‘ version.”

Dahl remembers another act worth of special praise. “Another Chicago act, The Mandells. A really good group; they had about five or six singles. They were pretty darn popular on the west side here in Chicago, but they never really made it out of here. They deserved a higher profile. Good production quality, too. You listen to all of their stuff back to back, and you think, ‘How did this group not make it?’”

Part of the answer to Dahl’s rhetorical question is the challenge of distribution. “There were so many tiny labels out there doing quality work,” he observes, “but they didn’t have the pull of a Motown or a Stax. And as a result, a lot of stuff just fell through the cracks.”

It was Dahl’s idea to subdivide the tracks on Groove & Grind into subcategories: urban, group, southern and the aforementioned funky soul. Each of the four discs focuses upon a particular sub-style. “We needed some kind of context,” he admits. “If you just throw 112 songs on four CDs without any kind of context, it’s a little harder to grasp.”

Occasionally a title vetted for inclusion on the set would be left off because the compilers couldn’t locate a clean copy of the recording (much less a master tape). But Dahl hastens to add that there is plenty of worthy material out there – from soul music’s heyday – that still hasn’t been compiled onto a CD collection like Groove & Grind. “It’s amazing how much great soul music was recorded in the 1960s,” he says. “As much as r&b as there was in the 1950s, it seems as if there’s three times as much soul” in the following decade.

Start to finish, Groove & Grind: Rare Soul ’63 – ’73 is a fun listen, and provides superb value-for-money. It’s an illuminating window into little-known music from forty-plus years ago.

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Album Mini-review: Tommy Keene — Laugh in the Dark

Friday, October 2nd, 2015

File Next to: Marshall Crenshaw, Smithereens, Matthew Sweet

A dedicated soldier in power pop’s ongoing struggle for critical and commercial success, Keene is at the top of the genre in terms of both quality and consistency. His preternatural abilities – crafting a sharp hook; wrapping it in a memorable, powerful melody; and applying heartfelt, often melancholy lyrics – make him an exemplar of what power pop can be at its very best. After the tangent of his deep-cut covers album (2013′s Excitement At Your Feet), Keene returns with another winning set of originals. He blasts out of the gate with the chiming near-perfection of “Out of My Mind” and continues with nine more tunes boasting muscular backing. The shimmering “All the Lights Are Alive” demonstrates Keene’s skill at delivering lump-in-the-throat emotional content in the guise of an impossibly catchy pop song. Laugh in the Dark shows that Tommy Keene’s muse hasn’t failed him yet.

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Album Mini-review: Holly Golightly — Slowtown Now!

Thursday, October 1st, 2015

File Next to: Chris Isaak, Lucinda Williams

A recording artist with an extensive back catalog, Golightly and her backing musicians showcase their stylistic breadth on this oddly-titled album. Electric guitars sit comfortably beside upright bass in these sparely arranged but fascinating tunes. Golightly sings all self-penned material here, save a smoking, fuzz-guitar-ified cover of Rudy Clark‘s “Fool, Fool, Fool.” Imagine a female Chris Isaak crossed with early sixties girl group (less the wall of sound) and you’ll have a vague idea of Golightly’s métier. Her arrangement and production choices all serve to highlight the strength of Golightly’s songwriting; the unflattering cover art, however, does not serve Golightly well and detracts from the package. Still, the singer proves once again her mastery of styles: garage rock, rockabilly, cocktail jazz and more. Listeners would be hard-pressed to come up with a genre label that applies to all these tunes, so why bother? Just dig ‘em.

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Album Mini-review: Jimi Hendrix — Freedom: Atlanta Pop Festival

Wednesday, September 30th, 2015

File Next to: Cream, Buddy Guy

By the time of this historic July 4, 1970 concert – in front of his largest-ever American audience – Hendrix had broken up the Experience, briefly formed Band of Gypsys, and re-formed a new Experience. Joined by bassist Billy Cox and returning drummer Mitch Mitchell, Hendrix focused on his “older” (1967-68) material, previewing three numbers from his then-current recording project. The manic “Room Full of Mirrors” provided a clue to what would have been Hendrix’s new direction. Musically, the trio with Cox doesn’t sound all that different from the Noel Redding-era Experience. The band is very together, and the live arrangements stick closely to the studio versions; only on the slow blues of “Red House” does Hendrix stretch out, doubling the song’s length. Though most of the performance was released on the 1991 box set Stages, this long-bootlegged recording finally gets official and complete release.

An edited version of this review appeared previously in the Colorado Springs Independent.

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Video Review: The Who — Live at Shea Stadium 1982

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2015

In the eyes of most pop music historians, The Who circa 1982 gets a pretty bad rap. With the hindsight of history, it’s not that difficult to understand why. Drummer Keith Moon had died in 1979, just before the release of Who Are You. The group enlisted former Small Faces drummer (and authentic “mod”) Kenney Jones to fill the drum throne, a move that enraged a certain subset of Who fans. And the pair of post-Moon Who albums – 1981′s Face Dances and It’s Hard from the following year – didn’t rate among anyone’s choice for best albums of the group’s career. And with a bit more hindsight, the marketing of the 1982 tour can look like a case of misleading advertising: as the live document of that tour, the largely uninspired 2LP set was called Who’s Last, the group was more or less expected to hang it up and go their separate ways after the tour. They didn’t, instead reuniting multiple times and eventually (2006) releasing new studio material.

Some bigger problems for the group were internal: Pete Townshend was mired in drug and alcohol abuse, and racked with self-doubt and confusion about his artistic direction; Roger Daltrey never could get on with Jones.

It was amidst this backdrop that The Who mounted a massive tour, documented now a third of a century later, on Live at Shea Stadium. Those who know the group’s history and/or those who have sat through Who’s Last would likely expect this video (on DVD and Blu-ray) to be a dull and lifeless affair, a document of a group past their prime and with little left to say.

And they’d be wrong. The band are shown here in fine form. Daltrey is athletic, and his voice is powerful yet controlled. Bassist John Entwistle is rock solid, with respect to both his stage movements (nearly imperceptible) and his bass playing (sterling and thunderous). Townshend looks more than a bit silly in his trendy clothes and haircut; he looks to all the world like the middle-aged guy who’s trying more than a bit too hard to fit in with the younger crowd. (And by all available accounts, that’s almost exactly what was happening with him at the time.) Jones is doing more than an acceptable job; rather than attempting to ape Moon’s drumming style – a feat largely impossible anyhow – he plays the drums forcefully, but in a manner consistent with his work up to that point. Remember that this was a man who had played on quite a few studio albums and performed countless live dates before joining The Who; it’s not as if Daltrey and his band mates wouldn’t have known what they were getting with Jones. (Keyboardist Tim Gorman is kept in half-light nearly offstage.)

For those who didn’t witness the ’82 tour firsthand (I attended a date on the brief 1980 tour), the Who’s Last album has until now been the more-or-less official record of that period for those who cared enough to listen. And it presented a lopsided picture of those tour dates. As was (and probably remains) standard practice, the concert tapes were edited to remove songs that had been released not long earlier as studio tracks. So Who’s Last came off like an oldies revue, a perception reinforced by the encore number, an Entwistle-led “Twist and Shout.” The world didn’t need another version of that song in 1982.

But Live at Shea Stadium – documenting the second of two nights at the New York City landmark, with some bonus tracks culled from the previous night – presents a more complete picture of The Who live onstage. And they’re better, more fiery that one might have remembered. They blast through a set list that includes the de rigueur chestnuts (“Substitute,” “Baba O’Reilly,” “Pinball Wizard,” and you can probably name the rest), but they also pepper the set with selections from Who Are You (including the underrated “Sister Disco”), Face Dances (unfortunately only Entwistle’s “The Quiet One” but not the vastly superior “Another Tricky Day”), and the then-new It’s Hard (most notably the late-period classic “Cry If You Want”). On all of these, not only does the band turn in an excellent performance, but they seem actually to be enjoying being onstage together.

Much of early 1980s videotape has a curious visual quality that makes it feel dated and sterile. The video here – described on the package as “upscaled standard definition original material” – looks quite good, and the multiple-camera production is typically professional for its vintage. The sound is excellent, especially in high-definition stereo and DTS-HD Master Audio.

So while this 1982 concert video doesn’t represent The Who at their pinnacle – one could argue endlessly on that score – neither does it show them at their nadir (for that, I would refer you to the 3LP set Join Together, a document of their overblown and uninspired 1989 concert tour). Thanks to this new video, the group’s 1982 tour can now been seen as an important – if not strictly essential – chapter in The Who’s story. Live at Shea Stadium 1982 is well worth viewing for fans.

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Book Review: Baby You’re a Rich Man

Monday, September 21st, 2015

One can and should be forgiven for greeting the news of yet another book about The Beatles with more than a hint of skepticism. I mean, the Beatles phenomenon has been exhaustively dissected from most every vantage point: artistic, sociological, cultural, and so on. Not to deny for a second the value and importance of them and their music, but pretty much everything that needs to be written about them – save for the next two installments in Mark Lewisohn‘s obsessively detailed yet eminently readable trilogy – has already been published. Right?

I was certain the answer was yes. But then I learned of a new book by Stan Soocher, Baby You’re a Rich Man: Suing the Beatles for Fun and Profit. Setting aside the amusing (but perhaps needlessly snarky) second part of that title, Soocher’s goal is a fascinating, largely heretofore-unexplored topic: the myriad of lawsuits directly and/or indirectly involving The Beatles.

There’s nothing dry or unnecessarily knotty in Soocher’s prose. With the skill of a forensic accountant — but the storytelling finesse of a novelist – the author details many of the major legal entanglements that plagued the Beatles at various points in their career. And – understandably drawing upon the historical scholarship of those who have written before – Soocher places the lawsuits into a context that lay people (that is, non-lawyers, non-accountants) will understand and appreciate.

Some of these topics have been covered before, most notably in Apple to the Core: The Unmaking of The Beatles, the 1972 book by Peter McCabe and Robert Schonfeld. And the topics were discussed in Peter Brown‘s 1983 book (with Steven Gaines), The Love You Make. But the former could draw only upon information then in the public domain, and much of what Soocher covers was officially secret at the time, or not easily learned. And the latter suffers – at least to some degree – at the hands of its author’s desire to paint himself – a significant participant in that book’s stories – in a favorable light.

Soocher isn’t exactly a disinterested observer; no, such a point of view simply wouldn’t provide the initiative required for an author to piece together all of the information. But Soocher is a largely impartial witness, a writer who sets out the facts and context while exercising commendable restraint and no more editorializing than is necessary.

The legal messes that involved The Beatles – or at least the ones discussed in Baby You’re a Rich Man – fall surprisingly neatly into four categories: Messes brought on or exacerbated by manager Brian Epstein; entanglements caused or worsened by the involvement of Allen Klein; crises borne of dealings with Morris Levy; and difficulties at the hands of government and/or law enforcement authorities. Also unsurprisingly, there’s an unhealthy amount of overlap among these, if you will, four horsemen.

Brian Epstein is seen by most historians as a hard-working, well-meaning, and ultimately tragic figure who generally did his best, yet who often found himself out of his depth in business matters. His naivete concerning matters of licensing and publishing meant that The Beatles – although we think of them as fabulously rich people – often left money on the table in business negotiations. And the mess in which their management structure was left in the wake of Epstein’s death led directly to two new realities. The first was Apple Corps, a high-minded but ultimately failed business venture run by the group members themselves. (Yes, today the company is wildly successful, but that has only come about in the last few decades.)

The second was to send the group – or at least John Lennon, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr – into the (arguably) evil clutches of Klein. As Baby You’re a Rich Man illustrates time after time, page after page, seemingly everything Klein did for his clients ended up (surprise!) benefiting him to a greater degree. So while he got the group a better royalty rate on their albums, he took a massive cut. And when Apple received promotional copies (records “written off” and designed to be sent to radio stations and reviewers), Klein “sold them out the back door” to retailers, pocketing the illegal profits.

The Beatles’ tangles with Klein led as much as any other factor (and arguably more than the presence of Yoko Ono) to the ultimate breakup of the Beatles. And he’d continue to cause them problems for years afterward, as a seemingly unending litany of court cases demonstrates.

Morris Levy was (cough, cough) “widely believed” to be a mobster, and his dealings with John Lennon – although they started out as friends, same as Lennon and Klein had begun – were nettlesome, to say the least. Those culminated in the Roots LP, a bastardized version of early mixes from Lennon’s Rock and Roll album project.

Speaking of Lennon, he suffered entanglements with Big Brother, first in the form of Sgt. Norman Pilcher of Scotland Yard’s drug squad, and then via harassment at the hands of the Richard M. Nixon administration. Lennon’s long struggle to remain in the United States was foiled at nearly every turn by a corrupt government regime at odds with the former Beatle’s supposed political activism, and Soocher details the timeline skillfully.

George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” plagiarism suit is discussed, as are matters connected to the (business) dissolution of The Beatles, something that didn’t happen for many, many years after they had stopped working together. What’s fascinating is the manner in which Soocher weaves all of the disparate threads into a single narrative, where everything is connected.

Baby You’re a Rich Man isn’t an exhaustive look at the group’s legal wrangles, however. There’s nary a mention of paternity suits, or Harrison’s tangles with Warner Brothers and A&M Records, or Starr’s ill-fated Ring O’ Records, or McCartney’s losing the catalog rights to Michael Jackson. And other lesser topics are skipped as well, presumably because they (a) are less interesting and (b) don’t fit as neatly into Soocher’s narrative. But this is no criticism of the author’s decision to leave those subjects out. In the light of the high quality of Baby You’re a Rich Man, there’s reason to hope for a future companion volume to explore some of those other issues. But by that I certainly don’t mean to wish further legal headaches for anyone in The Beatles’ orbit; they clearly have enough as it is: as Soocher notes in his book’s epilogue, as recently as 2009, Paul McCartney’s MPL Music sued ABKCO (the late Allen Klein’s company) on charges of mishandling funds owed to MPL. That suit was dismissed by the New York Appellate Division in 2014. But one assumes we haven’t heard the last of it or similar legal conflicts.

Baby You’re a Rich Man: Suing the Beatles for Fun and Profit is recommended in the strongest terms, not only to Beatles fans, but to anyone interested in the business of being a popular artist.

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Album Mini-review: The Jean-Paul Sartre Experience — I Like Rain

Friday, September 18th, 2015

File Next to: The Chills, The Clean, Straitjacket Fits

Sporting a playful name (eventually shortened in response to lawsuits) that had less than nothing to do with their sound, this New Zealand band was a prime exponent of the Flying Nun Records sound and aesthetic. With a DIY production approach and relatively unadorned arrangements, the JPS Experience crafted music that brought to mind Teenage Fanclub sitting on comfy couches, or Loaded-era Velvet Underground leaning even more in a timeless pop direction. The band never once dented the charts outside their island homeland, and mustered relatively little chart action there. But their lack of commercial success belies the charms found within their music. In the same way that America’s garage rock explosion of the mid 60s created hundreds of worthy tracks that never got a wide hearing, the Kiwi pop explosion of 1980s New Zealand went mostly unheard outside that small country. Albeit belatedly, this best-of helps correct that injustice.

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Album Mini-review: Pugwash — Play This Intimately (As If Among Friends)

Friday, September 18th, 2015

File Next to: Fountains of Wayne, XTC, Electric Light Orchestra

This may just be the effort that pays off for guitarist-singer-songwriter Thomas Walsh and his bandmates. The Dublin-based band has released six albums, including three – count ‘em: three – best-ofs on three different labels. Though critically acclaimed, Pugwash haven’t gained traction in the American marketplace. Until now, that is. Play This Intimately is their first album of new material to get a proper stateside release, and it’s filled to the brim with Pugwash’s brand of preternaturally melodic, catchy pop-rock. The group is often compared to XTC (they were on Andy Partridge‘s Ape label for awhile, and Partridge guests on the new album) and ELO (Jeff Lynne makes a fleeting appearance as well), but Pugwash truly have a style of their own. “Kicking and Screaming” boasts one of Walsh’s strongest melodies, and that’s saying something. Play This Intimately is a winning balance of power and subtlety, of brashness and nuance.

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Album Mini-review: Bill Wyman — Back to Basics

Friday, September 18th, 2015

File next to: Pete Townshend’s Deep End, Ian Dury

During his time (1962-1993) with the Rolling Stones, bassist Bill Wyman released three albums that displayed his particular (if low-key) musical sensibilities. After the success of his friends-and-all project Willie & the Poor Boys, he adopted that approach for his long-running aggregation, The Rhythm Kings. That busman’s holiday aggregation was a low-pressure way for Wyman to hang out with talented friends, focusing on live dates and albums that presented beloved covers from early- and pre-rock’n'roll eras. Back to Basics employs a similar method: it features straightforward, polished musicality, wry lyrical wordplay, and Wyman’s gravelly, unprepossessing vocals that recall the late Ian Dury. Whether one would call the album “consistent” or “samey” likely has much to do with how one feels about Wyman’s understated and unpretentious musical approach in general. The bottom line is that it pleases Wyman, and as he approaches his eightieth birthday in October 2016, that’s success enough.

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