Music Monthly: February 2007
Music reviews from February 2007.
As the title of the album states, it has been a while since hearing from this hip hop outfit. Not since hearing Mr Wendel in the mid 90’s have they been on stage together. Maybe they’ve matured over time as we have a real mix of hip hop, funk, and soul coming out in together. The album opens with the title track, which explains about the band coming together again and is followed by a funked up version of Miracles. More upbeat hip hop tracks include Get Down And Dirty and I Know I’m Bad.
Favourite tracks are the latin flavoured Sao Paulo and the soulful religion based Heaven.
A very good album to add to your soulful hip hop music selections for 2007. Anthony Fong
Widely hailed as one of the most creative pop figures of today, Beck is certainly that and a great deal more. His creativity on The Information extends to cover art you design yourself from the supplied stickers then you can choose from the CD version or the DVD made in the studio at the same time as the music sessions. While the DVD clearly features random guests no-doubt plucked from the street the audio is anything but random.
Multi-layered, banal then captivating, simple then bizarrely original and complex orchestrations, fluidly strong yet undemanding vocals and a unity out of as many diverse styles as you can conjure up. That’s Beck. Miss it now if you choose but you will catch it one day. Think David Byrne meets the new century. Allan McFarlane
As expected this album represents business as usual for JJ Cale. Beautifully simple, catchy & bluesey tunes sung ‘southern crooner’ style. It’s seemingly intentionally undercooked in a performance sense – no one gets too excited ’round here boy! Clapton’s contributions are some interesting solos albeit via some very strange, echoey guitar tones and his more than passable imitations of Cale’s vocal style. A standout for me is the guitar solo on Hard To Thrill, where we finally get to hear EC cutting loose a little… even if only to blow away young pretender John Mayer, whose solo is limp and obvious in comparison to the tonal and rhythmic mastery that follows. So good old Eric can still turn it on when he wants to.
Fire up the BBQ, have a few bottles of your best friend with some good mates and let old JJ and EC jam away in the background ’till the sun goes down. Don’t expect more than that from The Road To Escondido and it may well be a lifelong friend. A friend you might recognise from a long time ago anyway. Darren Watson
One of the great joys of reviewing is being able to bring into the open great music that you know would otherwise slip under the radar. So it is with It’s Always You, an album of rare quality and beauty.
I’ve reviewed three of Steve’s previous albums back in September 2004 so I was prepared for the quality of his piano work (which is exceptional and recorded wonderfully) but I wasn’t quite prepared for the voice of Anna. What an instrument. Smokey, earthy, rich and expressive and used with such intuitive ease that it makes listening a joy. The key quality of the album, which really struck me from the first listen, is how they combine and truly work as one voice. Obviously I’m not the only one struck but this sense of combination as when I mentioned it to Steve he said, “She sings the way I hear things inside, which is truly uncanny, then adds something more”.
The thirteen songs, all written by Dobrogosz and dealing with the many faces of love, have a classic feel with beautiful melodies and lyrics. I can’t really narrow down a style as with all of his work there are aspects of many different genres mixed so while primarily jazz you’ll also a get good dose of blues, gospel, and pop. All the words that I can write don’t come close to experiencing the real thing so I’d urge you to go to Steve’s web site and check out the video and sound clip available under the album cover with the very pretty lady on the front.
The chance meeting in 2004 where Steve filled in for an absent pianist has produced what I feel is Dobrogosz’s best album. Without being soul music, the album is very soulful highlighted by the all too rare sense of oneness between piano and vocal. I often hear a vocalist and pianist on the same disc but not often are they working together to level of Dobrogosz and Christoffersson. One of my albums of 2006. Craig Fenemor
New Orleans has long been the source of great music and colourful characters and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band are both. They have been making quite a show with their novel and energetic approach mixing hip hop with jazz, soul and pop since 1977. They have appeared on films and as guests on numerous albums. Their music is infectious and unpretentious.
In the wake of hurricane Katrina the DDBB released a remake of Marvin Gaye’s 1971 classic, What’s Going On. With Guest appearances by Chuck D, Bettye La Vette and others it holds your interest right till the end. For those that love the Marvin Gaye album do not expect a carbon copy, DDBB have created their own interpretation that rolls, smoulders and pops in true Nawleans style. It also has to be said that this is a great sounding recording. Brass instruments are never easy to record but on this album every instrument is finely etched and easily identified.
So if the season of giving has not taken too high a toll, then splash out and buy this for yourself or a friend and feel comforted that a portion of the proceeds go to help the victims of hurricane Katrina. Richard Nelson
Following on from their successful Forever Faithless album, the Faithless trio of Maxi Jazz, Sister Bliss and Rollo Armstrong have created another monster! This electronic dance sound only gets better as you listen to the downbeat tunes of Music Mattersthrough to the atmospheric Nate’s Tune, and I Hope. The opening track Bombs reflects on the emotion of war and the title track To All New Arrivals reveals to us all the love and joy of bringing a child into the world.
Check out Dido with her strong riveting vocals on Last This Day and Robert Smith from the Cure performing a cameo on a great little number titled Spiders, Crocodiles and Kryptonite. Favourite tracks are Hope and Glory and Emergency. Mind you, after listening to the album again, each track is starting to grow on me! Anthony Fong
The latest album by NZ’s The Feelers sees the band on familiar ground. To my ears there isn’t a huge progression from their last release, Playground Battle, but that may be no bad thing.
Those of you who are familiar with their work will know what I mean when I say that this album contains more of the big guitars and big choruses that we’ve come to know the band for. For those unfamiliar with their music, I’d describe The Feelers’ signature sound as being guitar and piano based pop/rock, fronted by the throaty vocals of James Reid. It’s a big sound, with plenty going on.
The sing-along chorus in Never Get Me Down and driving drums and guitars on On A High will no doubt cause them to become concert favourites.
Sometimes I prefer it when they just strip everything back – like the first part of Pretty Place which can send shivers down your back, and Nothing’s More Real which is full of emotion and nicely plucked acoustic guitar, and even bagpipes towards the end!.
This is a solid, unpretentious Feelers album. And, in these days when bands seem to come and go every five minutes, long may they continue to produce good, honest rock music!Douglas Lang
Fingerprints is the album Peter Frampton has always said he wanted to make. It’s an instrumental showing a wide variety of styles. You might say he’s showing off and you would be right. Yes it’s instrumental, it’s glitzy and smooth but Frampton has gone the distance to make each track a little gem. Take the Sound Garden cover of Black Hole Sun, Frampton plays three different guitars and the result is scorching. The track Float is a tribute to the Shadows, not surprising considering that Frampton lists them as big influences. Blooze is the obligatory blues track and it is followed up by blues rock with Cornerstones featuring Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman on drums and bass. My favourite track is the funky Grab a Chicken (Put it Back) complete with talk box. There is even a tribute to the plucking of Django Reinhardt complete with viola.
Throughout the album Peter Frampton’s playing is impeccable and the recording is very first-rate and spacious. The thing that prevents me from gushing all over the page is that it is a little too slick and at times can sound like one of those albums that you play during dinner parties in the background. Having said that if you are a student of the guitar or just simply a guitar nut then Fingerprints will show you just what a well played guitar can do, and perhaps that is why Peter Frampton had to make it. Richard Nelson
Brooke Fraser is probably New Zealand’s most public virgin who is still in her twenties and yet arguably very easy on the eye. It seems her public virginity is a part of a strong Christian faith where she is “saving herself for marriage”. This sentiment is expressed beautifully in her song Love is Waiting. This background is important to understand, as she came to notice through the Christian music scene. In a similar way to the uninitiated you may not realise that many of her songs are expressing deep spiritual insights. The C.S. Lewis Song is an obvious example where she laments that “the flesh that I fight is at best only light and momentary” and concludes “I was made to know you. Hope is coming for me. Hope. He’s coming.” It would be a mistake to assume with in this and similar lines that she is speaking of an earthly lover rather than her Lord and Saviour.
Given the somewhat heavy nature of this CD it maybe surprising that the album has rushed so quickly to the top of our charts. I know there is still a strong young Christian music scene out there, but I don’t think that is enough to explain her mainstream success. She certainly can sing (I resisted the temptation to describe her as another Norah Jones), is quite photogenic and is a true sensitive. The best way to appreciate her voice is to go straight to tracks 11 and 12, The Thief and Hymn. There her voice is soft and liquid, a gentle voice to cuddle up to in the night. I am so grateful for these tracks as basically the rest of the recording is crap. The first 10 tracks are driven, busy, artificial and over-processed. But then I am just a Boring Old Fart who has drifted a long way from his Brethren roots and who thinks that Christian music should sound reverential. John Groom
This, Goldenhorse’s second album, firmly established the band as a Kiwi musical institution, and probably consigned them to a life of financial hardship. New Zealand’s iconic musicians tend to be well loved and less well paid, unless they head for foreign climes and pretend to be Australian.
Out of the Moon retains the whimsy, passing shadows, and quirky charm as Riverhead, the band’s first release. It’s engaging, but not quite so interesting or unexpected as its predecessor. The remastered version comes complete with a second disc containing three unreleased songs, Engine Summer, Autumn Jewels and O’Africa(all quintessential Goldenhorse). There are also three versions of tracks from the original album recorded with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra that I can’t be bothered with, and one track, Emptied Out, reprised in the form it took on the original album. This last addition is probably to demonstrate the difference re-engineering has made to the sound quality.
Played back to back, one is immediately struck by the added warmth in the new version, courtesy of stronger low midrange and bass, and less edgy high frequencies. The new version also seems a little quieter, probably to accommodate its wider dynamic range. More has been done than just adjusting a couple of tone controls, mind you. For example, Kirsten’s voice is just a little further back in the mix on some tracks, sometimes a little further forward, as in the single Out of the Moon.
On the whole, is it better? You might think that a simple question to answer, in that the remastered CD is clearly better balanced across the frequency spectrum, separates out the backing vocals, and is easier to endure at high volumes. But, the thing is, Goldenhorse aren’t New Zealand Idol contestants: their choice of sound for the original was in keeping with, dare I say it, an artistic vision. It might be a little raw, but the original better communicates Goldenhorse’s precarious quality, while the new edition subtracts as it adds. A real fan will want it for the three new songs, to be played once the original has finished spinning. Brent Burmester
This is the debut album by Albert Hammond Jr. – the curly haired guitarist from The Strokes, and son of the other (It Never Rains in Southern California) Albert Hammond and it’s actually rather good. I wasn’t really sure what to expect. It’s certainly not a Strokes album, but you can tell that Hammond Jr. plays with the Strokes. His guitar style is very distinctive.
At times he brings in a few of his mates, including Sean Lennon and Julian Casablancas (Strokes lead vocalist) to play along with the rest of the band. Their presence seems to enhance rather than detract from what is an interesting and likeable album.
At different times Hammond’s vocals reminded me of the Beach Boys, Oasis, The Beatles and Teenage Fanclub. There are some nice melodies and harmonies on the album, and it’s one that seems to open up on repeated listenings. Check out In Transit for the most Strokes-like track on the album; or try Blue Skies for a Beatles/Oasis feel.
In these days of 50 minute plus albums this release is a bit on the short side at around 35 minutes, but as a result there isn’t really any filler – it’s all good! Douglas Lang
Follow up to his highly regarded debut album O, this reflective, slightly dark release from Ireland’s Damien Rice really delivers. There is a transparency and simplicity/sparseness to the sound of his material which is engaging and leaves Rice’s vocals open and exposed – drawing the listener into the whole experience.
At times, Rice is accompanied in the vocal department by Lisa Hannigan – to particularly good effect on the album opener 9 Crimes which is an absolute beaut!
Elsewhere I’ve seen Rice compared with the likes of David Gray and James Blunt, and I guess he occupies a similar male singer-songwriter space but to me he is streets ahead – able to show more light and shade; tenderness and guts. Just listen to the passion on Rootless Tree or the distorted vocals on Me, My Yoke and I to get an idea of what I mean. Similarly Elephant builds from a naked vocal to a wall of sound close – full of expression and emotion.
Vocal-wise you could compare Rice to the likes of Leonard Cohen at times and Ryan Adams in places, but he’s very much his own man.
If you’re looking for a male singer songwriter with balls and haven’t checked out Damien Rice before, I’d highly recommend this as a very good place to start. Douglas Lang
The figurative equivalent goes like this: exotic setting – you pause on the threshold of a tat souvenir shop as unconvincing ethnic tunes flounce out via budget speakers and waft around you like unsavoury perfume; within, there’s the likelihood of el cheapo production-line fare, but nonetheless a suspicion of promise that, through ignorance of local culture, you might just be missing out on something good if you don’t venture in.
Inside, the realisation beds in: that your naff-detecting antennae had correctly assessed the shabby-grade air first time around… and that you’re sunk in it now until you can beat an insincere-smile retreat. And then relief, as you hasten away, not quite able to shake the irritating refrains from your head, vowing not to be foxed again. Rough. Don’t go there. Paul Green
Sometimes I despair of American exports – Coke, MacDonald’s, and the “war on terror”. Then I remember the Blues. What Putumayo has done through this collection is demonstrated the influence that blues has had “on musicians in every corner of the world”. Just to back this up, they have provided their liner notes in English, Spanish and French. The sale of the CD even helps a worthy cause where a portion of the money goes to “help the true pioneers and forgotten heroes of Southern musical traditions.”
Of the eleven tracks though, surprisingly five are in English and in fact four are from the USA. Some of the remaining six tracks are reasonable but uninspiring translations of familiar tracks. I enjoyed the jaunting rhythm of La Flaca (The Skinny Girl) from Spain, the intriguing Long-ge (Playing Mah-jong) from Taiwan and the delicious Botafofo (Slide Blues) from Argentina. Overall a mixed bunch to be treated as a sampler by the dedicated blues collector. John Groom
Now before I write anything I should declare that I’m an unapologetic Tom Waits fan from way back which will certainly sway my view of this absolutely stunning three CD collection of 54 new, used and abused songs.
“Gathering all this material together was like rounding up chickens at the beach”–Tom Waits.
From what I understand these songs are b-sides, remainders from other projects, and just stuff that’s been recorded over the years and never released. Some of it has been re-recorded, some of it is very original, hence the sound quality can be a bit up and down. The three discs have been split into “Brawlers”, “Bawlers” and “Bastards”, which gives the listener a pretty good idea of what to expect.
“Brawlers” is packed with rockier, bluesy, juke joint songs that are sung, hollered, shouted or whispered out with Waits usual passion and fire. There’re traditional songs, blues covers, odd covers (The Sea Of Love!!!), and some amazing originals. The Road To Peace is about as good a summation of the Palestinian/Israel conflict as I’ve heard or read. “Bawlers” is more laid back ballads, Americana, country, and contains possibly my favourite track of the entire collection, the moving Tell It To Me. It’s almost worth the price of the set just to hear Waits’ take on Sinatra’s Young At Heart, including whistling solo!
Then we get to “Bastards”. Anybody who’s followed the career of Mr Waits knows that there are some dark corners and twisted paths somewhere in his psyche. This CD seems to allow us to have a much brighter view of these areas than most anything that’s gone before. It’s a collection of spoken word pieces (Kurt Weil, Bukowski, Kerouac amongst others are used for source material), sound experiments, kids stories, and general oddities. I’ve always found Waits’ presentation of stories arresting and these tracks are no different. Some are too odd even for me (Army Ants!) but there are some real gems to be had here.
All in all this is a magnificent collection for the Waits fan, showcasing his talent as a performer and, with his wife, as a songwriter. Simply a must have set. To get the big picture I’ll have to quote Mr Waits:
“Orphans is a dead end kid driving a coffin with big tires across the Ohio River wearing welding goggles and a wife beater with a lit firecracker in his ear.”
I couldn’t have summed it up better myself. Craig Fenemor
I read many an over the top review of this disc before obtaining a copy myself. All I had read came nowhere near the experience of an actual listen. This is as much a landmark recording of this quintessential symphony you will ever have the pleasure to hear. It is to this decade what Rattles was to the 1980’s. And the similarities do not stop there. Fischer has been quietly working this band of skilled players into magnificent ensemble in much the same way the Simon (now sir Simon) Rattle did with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. I have never encounted such meticulous preparation of this score before, and those that think Gilbert Kaplan had the measure of the piece need to think again.
Okay, there is a hesitation about the landler feel of the second movement. Abbado is one of the few to actually pull this off in a true dance-like manner, and the occasional hint of over preparation enters some of the slower passages. But without a doubt the preparation is at times miraculous, detailed and so very welcome in the age of jetting conductors. Listen to the phasing of the very first few minuets and you’ll get the idea. Audio-wise this is an unparalleled success, with a truthful dynamic range, yet gloriously impactful when required.
If you are of the “Mahler is too long and devoid of melody” school I urge to hear this release. It will change your view, and enrich your life. Allan McFarlane