Albums of the Week

June 21-June 27, 2010

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In this edition: Paul Weller, Sand & Lines, Dave Gleason, Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, The Gaslight Anthem, Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby, Stephanie Finch, Acid Mothers Temple, Phil Manzanera and The Alps

Dennis’ Pick of the Week: Paul Weller: Wake Up The Nation (Yep Roc)

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A voracious appetite for life permeates Wake Up The Nation (released June 1). This is as wholly engaged and fired up as anything Weller wrote as a pissed-off young man in The Jam, but that isn’t a huge surprise given the man’s knack for reading society’s pulse and temperature. “Crack in the pavement/ The city in siege/ I don’t know where to escape it or who to believe/ I can’t find an opinion that ain’t on its knees,” he snarls on the title cut before exhorting the masses to wake up and “don’t be a drag” as they seize control over their lives, their countries, their futures. Insight and action are the poles this set operates between, and you’re an apathetic turd if you don’t get at least a little fired up by this roughneck hymnal. Weller’s whole demeanor refutes the notion that to grow old is to mellow. This is as erect and ready for action as anything in his catalog, and his liveliest album since Stanley Road (1995). The spit and hot blood of late 60s Beatles and The Small Faces courses through Wake Up The Nation, as well as the varied currents of Weller’s own solo career, which rush into fresh tributaries on this adventurous outing. There are also some choice classic rock nods, including a quotation from Blood, Sweat & Tears on Aim High and some choice percussion from Move/ELO stickman Bev Bevan a few cuts. This is a disquieting age and Weller is perfectly ruffled and ripe with the sort of bludgeoned wisdom we need right here, right now. (Dennis Cook)

And check out Dennis’ chat with Paul Weller at that other place he writes for.

Ron’s Pick of the Week: Venice Is Sinking: Sand & Lines: The Georgia Theatre Sessions/ May 20th-24th, 2008 (One Percent Press)

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The Athens, GA, music scene lost one of its hallowed halls when the historic Georgia Theatre was destroyed in a fire last June, destroying a storied venue where such local luminaries as R.E.M., Pylon and Widespread Panic held court over the course of their respective careers. However, while the theatre is in the process of being rebuilt in hopes of a New Year’s Eve 2011 reopening, the atmosphere of the original Georgia performance space continues to thrive in the air with Sand & Lines (released June 15), the latest album from Athens quintet Venice is Sinking. The album was originally done in homage to the Cowboy Junkies’ legendary 1988 album The Trinity Session, where the Canadian alt-country group recorded a quiet, lucid mix of covers and originals inside an empty Toronto church with only a single microphone used to capture the music. The only difference between Trinity and Sand & Lines besides location and personnel is the fact that ViS and engineer David Barbe, former Sugar bassist and longtime producer for the Drive-By Truckers, opted for two mics instead of one for this 10-track set culled from a four-night session in May of 2008. Well, that and instead of covering the Velvet Underground, Hank Williams and Elvis Presley, Venice chose to intermingle signature dream-pop revisions of tasty nugs like Galaxie 500’s Tugboat, Dolly Parton’s Jolene and Waylon Jennings’ The Wurlitzer Prize within the framework of their own American Music Club-meets-Lyle Lovett-at-his-most-gothic originals such as Sidelights, The Grey Line and Pebble Hill. And the old Georgia Theatre proudly sits in as the band’s de facto sixth member here, the ghostly reverb of the acoustics shimmering off the walls serving as an integral part of Sand & Lines‘ inherent vibe as any of the actual instruments played. And to make this story even better, all of the proceeds Venice Is Sinking garnered to fund the making of this album via were given to help fund the reconstruction of the venue that birthed it. (Ron Hart)

Dave Gleason: Turn And Fade (326 Records)

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It’s far easier to get country rock wrong than it is to get it right, which makes this California birthed gem all the more impressive since Gleason gets EVERYTHING just right on Turn And Fade (released June 15). The lingering, dull ache of long days spent grinding it out and mulling over the past reside in this music, but also the sweet release that music can bring to such feelings. While the mainstream has transformed country into a childish dimwits fiesta of novelty numbers, jingoistic flag waving and hayseed clichés delivered by city slickers in cowboy hats, Gleason and his collaborators reside in the lineage of 70s outlaw country like Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson mixed with older echoes, 80s flavors akin to Rodney Crowell, and no small measure of Flying Burrito Brothers style. Turn And Fade unleashes Gleason’s guitar fireworks more than earlier releases, and the overall tone is somewhat closer to enduring greats like Chuck Prophet, Peter Case and Kevn Kinney here. With each release, Gleason just grows stronger and surer, and in a different world he’d already be a regular at the Opry. (DC)

Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti: Before Today (4AD)

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In listening to Ariel Pink’s seemingly endless output of crude home recordings that made the rounds in the early-to-mid 00s, it always seemed like a pipe dream to believe what a decently funded session and a real studio could do to the music of this Southern California kingpin of lo-fi indie pop. Enter 4AD, who gave Pink enough money to help him transform the band in his head, Haunted Graffiti, into an actual ensemble of hired guns who help this outsider prodigy create the psychedelic, old school AM radio fantasy album he always imagined crafting as a youth. Before Today (released June 8) delivers, taking a seemingly impossible concoction of Lou Reed’s Street Hassle, Can’s Flow Motion, Todd Rundgren’s The Hermit of Mink Hollow, Hall and Oates’ Private Eyes and the soundtrack to The Last American Virgin and turning its pureed results into one of the finest albums of the year. (RH)

The Gaslight Anthem: American Slang (Side One Dummy)

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Already being feted as “the next big thing,” The Gaslight Anthem is a very good workingman’s New Jersey rock outfit. There’s been a lot of them but Gaslight’s a pretty fine example, especially on American Slang (released June 15), which has the feel of a band trying to capture the mojo of Springsteen’s Born To Run infused with Social Distortion’s Somewhere Between Heaven And Hell. That trying is one of their weaknesses; it’s hard to say what their sound is versus their obvious influences. But, there’s no denying their emotion and intensity, and bandleader-singer Brian Fallon is Bono-esque in his sincerity and spitting passion. And dude can turn a phrase better than your average yob, tapping into fundamental truths and shaping them in a way that makes one raise their glass and yell in excited release. American Slang is their strongest yet, and while I’m not ready to give them the crown just yet, there’s a lot to latch onto here. I just wish they didn’t sound so much like a scrubbed up Hold Steady or later day Clash much of the time; I like bit more dirt and drugs in my rock ‘n’ roll. (DC)

Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby: Two-Way Family Favourites (Southern Domestic Recordings)

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Following the critical success of their 2008 eponymous debut as a duo, Stiff-era New Wave legend Wreckless Eric and his blushing bride, quirky New York City singer-songwriter Amy Rigby, return to acetate with their second album as a duo, Two-Way Family Favourites (released May 4). This time around, the couple tackles a strange array of cover tunes you would hardly expect to have caught the ear of somebody like the Wreckless One. Nevertheless, Eric and Amy do their unorthodox picks great justice, offering stripped-to-the-bone renditions of such deep cuts as Endless Wire, the title cut to The Who’s underrated 2006 comeback studio album, The Flamin’ Groovies’ 1975 burner You Tore Me Down and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ Walls off the She’s The One soundtrack (arguably their finest album), intermingled with essentials like The Byrds’ Ballad of Easy Rider, The Beach Boys’ In My Room and even ABBA’s Fernando. A fine, fine follow-up to their 2008 debut, although it would have been pretty cool to hear Eric tackle one of his old Stiff mate Elvis Costello’s later tunes. Perhaps we can get God’s Comic for the next covers LP? (RH)

Stephanie Finch and The Company Men: Cry Tomorrow (Belle Sound)

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If pearls like Ginny Reilly, Dusty Springfield and Petula Clark still ruled radio then Finch would already be a household name. Cry Tomorrow (released May 18) is old school hard pop perfection, tuneful and beautifully crafted and sung with marvelous character. It’s no surprise that Finch’s solo debut is awesome given that she’s been the primary creative foil to hubby Chuck Prophet for ages – Chuck don’t hang with no slouches. In addition to Prophet, who also produces, the Company includes Bay Area treasures Rusty Miller and Kelley Stoltz, and the combo moves with the lithe, well greased motion of later Velvet Underground or the original Modern Lovers, just a whole bunch o’ real oomph, swinging melodies and catchy lyrics. More than anything else, Cry Tomorrow is a blast to listen to, alternating between bittersweet slower pieces and chuggers that’ll make you wear out your Cuban heels. In an alternate universe where there’s no Britney or Gaga, this is what the kids are losing it to on Top of the Pops. (DC)

Acid Mothers Temple & Melting Paraiso U.F.O.: In O to Infinity (Important Records)

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Japan’s finest psychedelic export continues their endless onslaught of quality bug-prog with the follow-up to their 2002 cover of minimalist composer Terry Riley’s In C, and their first album to feature vocalist and longtime recurring collaborator Cotton Casino since the early part of the decade. Abetted by Casino’s ghostly howl, the Mothers deliver a continuous hypnotic groove that straddles the line between minimalist classical and nightmare music as they continue to expound upon Riley’s original 1964 composition by taking it further and further into the alphabetical abyss. Try not to get lost inside your own catatonic state while listening. (RH)

Phil Manzanera: Firebird V11 (Expression)

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Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera reunites with his old chum, This Heat drummer Charles Hayward, for another go at the complex jazz-fusion the pair crafted as Quiet Sun back in the 70s on this 2008 Manzanera solo work officially getting its Stateside release this year. In a quartet setting rounded out by Israeli bass wizard Yaron Stavi and Polish pianist Leszek Możdżer, Manzanera pays homage to the signature guitar he has been playing since his Roxy days, ripping his Firebird to shreds in a way we have never quite heard him do before while Hayward bangs the drums as only a man who counts both Gong and Crass on his resume can. This largely instrumental seven-track epic stands as some of the highest quality fusion to emerge in many years. (RH)

The Alps: Le Voyage (Type)

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Two years after the amazing III emerged from the burgeoning San Francisco new school underground, The Alps continue to perfect their psychedelic sound cinema with Le Voyage (released May 25). Far warmer and melody-driven than their prior works, the trio really lets their Floyd flag fly on this stellar new collection, transplanting the lunatic from the grass into clouds obscured by the serenity of their amniotic flow of musique concrete sound manipulations, tripped out arrangements and airy acoustic guitar strums. It’s as sprawling as the mountain range that gives this group their name. Fans of Tortoise, Ennio Morricone and freak-folk alike please take note. (RH)