Nov 132018
 

The Wall ReduxOften ranked among the best concept albums of all time, Pink Floyd’s The Wall was released on November 30, 1979. Produced by band members David Gilmour and Roger Waters along with Bob Ezrin and James Guthrie, it’s overwhelmingly considered Waters’s baby. He conceived of Pink, the fatigued rock-star figure on whom the album centers, and who is widely thought to contain characteristics of both Roger Waters and Pink Floyd cofounder and original frontman, Syd Barrett. The musical narrative confronts war, the ugly side of stardom, and the conformity encouraged by many English private schools of the day – blending the nominally unrelated subjects into seamless theme.

Covering an album as entrenched in the musical culture as this one is ambitious and dicey by nature. Many well-known acts have covered Pink Floyd, and even the more celebrated among those covers are not immune to pushback from tie-dyed-in-the-wool Floyd fans. The bands behind The Wall Redux certainly get points for chutzpah. The newest redux effort from Magnetic Eye Records, this compilation invites artists from rock and metal to revisit all the songs on Pink Floyd’s 11th studio album.
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Oct 152018
 

Folk FeverWhat is the difference between pastiche and parody, I wonder? The dictionary tells us the first becomes the second when comic intent is sought. That said, pastiche all too often implies a knowing degree of tongue in cheek, and, however lovingly performed, I fear this is where the outcome lies on the Band of Love’s album Folk Fever.

Certainly nobody designed Folk Fever to make you laugh. Indeed, the standard of playing and singing, by a selection of the UK folk scene’s finest established and upcoming names, is exemplary, the love evident in the performances. The key players are probably unknown outside purist circles – they would be Jim Causley, Greg Russell, Alice James and the duo of Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin, all of whom have made respectable names for themselves on the folk circuit in Britain. Older timers like Steve Knightley and Phil Beer, aka Show of Hands, perhaps known to these pages for this, and Mike McGoldrick, a flute and pipes whiz currently earning a crust with Mark Knopfler, are along to add gravitas, instrumentally and vocally.
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Oct 122018
 

With his new album Lean on Me, Blue Note artist José James provides track-by-track recreations of soul master Bill Withers’ best-known hits. James has a phenomenal voice that captures the spirit of the originals and would make him an ideal frontman for a Withers tribute act. As a result, the album’s biggest strength is also its biggest weakness. James mirrors Withers’ sound so precisely that you have to give each track a close listen to discern any differences between his versions and the originals. Unfortunately, in the streaming era this presents a conundrum: why should one listen to the perfect tribute and not just click on Withers’ originals?
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Sep 242018
 

my way

Willie Nelson’s latest album My Way is billed is as a tribute to Frank Sinatra. But it’s really just another chapter in Nelson’s retelling of the Great American Songbook. It features Nelson’s signature dude ranch cabaret sound that he’s perfected over the course of the last four decades, starting with the 1978 classic Stardust.

Throughout My Way, whether he’s backed by a large orchestra or small jazz combo, Nelson has the uncanny ability to make the tracks his own. There’s his instantly recognizable voice, which still sounds impeccable. He infuses the lush arrangements with heavy amounts of harmonica. While Nelson does not break any new musical ground, listening to the record is a bit like hanging out with an old friend, or at the very least, with a familiar (red-headed) stranger.

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Sep 072018
 

kilonovaWilliam Elliott Whitmore is 40, but he has always sounded like a much older man, with a deep, soulful voice that gives everything he sings a certain gravitas.  Think Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, or late Dylan, or most of all, Johnny Cash at his most apocalyptic.  If Whitmore sang “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” you’d still worry, and probably be unhappy.  I first heard Whitmore in 2006, opening for Lucero, at the Bowery Ballroom in New York, and was immediately transfixed by his timeless voice, dark songs, austere banjo, guitar and foot stomping accompaniment, and intense performance.

Born and raised on a 150-acre farm in southeastern Iowa, which he inherited from his parents and still owns, Whitmore grew up singing and playing guitar and banjo, with musical influences that started with country and moved toward punk as he got older.  At a certain point, though, Whitmore realized that he needed to focus on the folky, rustic, blues music that he grew up on–but with a punk edge.

So when Bloodshot Records released Kilonova, an album of covers of (mostly) lesser known songs from many musical eras, the question was, how would such a distinctive artist put his stamp on this block of diverse songs? “Diverse” barely begins to tell the story–artists range from Dock Boggs, to Johnny Cash,  to the Magnetic Fields to Bad Religion.

In short, the answer is, remarkably well.
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Jun 152018
 

KidjoBono, whom Angélique Kidjo has taken heat for performing with on account of the collaboration signaling a lack of African purity on her part, famously and pretentiously begins the bombastic and mostly successful cover of “Helter Skelter” that kicks off U2’s concert album Rattle and Hum by proclaiming, “Charles Manson stole this song from the Beatles. We’re stealing it back.” I was reminded of this line when I eagerly volunteered to review Kidjo’s full album cover of Talking Heads‘ most Afro-inspired album, Remain in Light. I anticipated the album to be an act of musical liberation that brought traditional instrumentation to the most famous set of songs that had appropriated polyrhythmic composition in service of the definitely Western agenda of documenting David Byrne’s typically anxious anticipation of the Reagan years. The review, I thought, was going to write itself. It is inevitable, I imagined concluding, that removing the veil of cultural appropriation allows us to feel like we hearing these songs for the first time, “same as it ever was.”

This will not be that review. Continue reading »