In this edition: Nathan Moore, John Fullbright, Jon Cleary, Paul Thorn, Steve Barton, Peter Gabriel and Beach House.
Dennis’ Pick of the Week:
Nathan Moore and the Moorechestra: Hippy Fiasco Rides Again (self-released)
Openness is scary, an act of bravery and surrender that’s increasingly rare in these rough, hold-onto-whatcha-got-and-fuck-the-rest times. In the realm of art, openness is just as rare, folks usually interested in seeing their vision executed to the fullest extent and not willing to cede the reins in any substantive way. But there are exceptions, and Nathan Moore represents the loveliest, broadest expression of that term “exception.” A folkie who can rock and an inveterate wanderer with a home-wise heart, Moore has practiced a most open existence for years now, and his latest chapter, Hippy Fiasco Rides Again, finds his arms wider than ever, embracing a lively, fruitful creative interaction with his fans and fellow musicians that’s absolutely unique.
Charging off “full speed ahead on a roll away bed,” Moore sends out a call to star-screwers, moo-shu-ers and other glorious Freak Flag Nation residents, and then he proceeds to integrate countless small ideas contributed from a diverse tribe of pros and yahoos. The album was birthed during last year’s Hippy Fiasco tour, where Moore and his stalwart travel companions played wherever and whenever they could, often just for the pleasure of it, a meal and place to crash outside of their van for the night. From this impromptu nationwide excursion came a pile of songs, which Moore then offered up the raw elements of online, encouraging the ever-expanding Moorechestra – basically anyone with an instrument or voice that shows up and wants to be involved in his music – to chime in and possibly become part of the finished versions. What resulted is this set, a bulwark against those intent on blowing our brick house down, a love song to flowers, children and other things that grow, and a pocket full of small, tuneful miracles for folks who stay up all night and talk about their scars and dreams, wondering if they will ever win and figuring out how to keep standing up if they never do.
Hippy Fiasco Rides Again is Nathan’s unmastered mixes for 17 tunes, and what’s so amazing is how cohesive and empathetically assembled each cut is – a sign of what a tuned-in craftsman Moore has become in his vagabond evolution. It is Moore’s most lush outing yet (and most contemporary sounding, too), each cut throbbing with the attention and passion of countless participants inspired by this ever-inspiring bard. It’s not really a shock that so many people wanted to intertwine themselves with Moore. If you know this bohemian Buddha even a bit you know he emanates a “let’s put on a show” vibe that makes one instinctively pull out the grease paint and start practicing rope tricks. To be part of his Moorechestra is to honor the archetypal ringmaster Moore is at heart, and his compositions stirred up too many beautiful, curious moments in the contributors here to recount in a single review. This is an album to be enjoyed on one’s own travels, where the burdens and distractions of home and work aren’t paramount – a headspace where one can pick up on the nuances inside this humming pleasure…and then perhaps find their own way to sing along. (Dennis Cook)
Dennis’ Runner-Up of the Week:
John Fullbright: From The Ground Up (Blue Dirt Records)
This 23-year-old Oklahoma boy is so talented it’s almost irritating. No one should be this John-Prine-wise-n-grizzled or charmingly weary sounding at that age! Fullbright’s debut, From The Ground Up (released May 8), instantly places him in the ranks of Jason Isbell, Greg Brown and the like – i.e. folk-ready rabble-rousers with rock in their hearts and a great deal of observational acumen about the Everyman. In Fullbright’s case, there’s a strong Biblical streak with Jericho, St. Paul and more getting referenced, and the album opens with Fullbright speaking for the Lord Above: “I made the heaven and earth/ I made the stars above/ Is it too much to ask for a little love?” From The Ground Up is a tip-to-tail knockout, one of those sets that bowls one over with the sheer depth of calloused hand truth and barroom perfect ambiance – each cut seems as if Fullbright is playing just a few feet away. He conjures up Leon Russell at his peak on I Only Pray At Night and All The Time In The World, Dan Hicks in a dark mood on Satan and St. Paul, and a whole bunch of other classics elsewhere (Buddy Miller definitely comes to mind). Based on this inaugural full-length, Fullbright is well on his way to joining the upper ranks. (DC)
Dennis’ Bonus Review:
Jon Cleary: Occapella! (FHQ Records)
Just listening to him – particularly on this grand homage to Allen Toussaint – you’d never know Jon Cleary was born in England. The smell and feel of New Orleans is all over him, flowing like crawfish juice in his vocals and skipping like a boisterous, bangin’ Second Line in his playing, which intermingles the smolderin’ funk of the city with the more cultured, patient pianistic slant of Professor Longhair and James Booker. Occapella! (released April 17) pays loving tribute to Toussaint in his many manifestations with Cleary highlighting Allen’s gifts as a composer, arranger and musician – singing and playing every instrument himself except for a vocal guest turn from Bonnie Raitt and Dr. John on opener Let’s Get Low Down. The tune selection is beyond reproach, giving the spotlight to the iconic (Everything I Do Gonh Be Funky), the perfectly pop (Southern Nights), the amusing (Popcorn Pop Pop) and classic (Fortune Teller), all given nifty new twists. Perhaps more than anything, Occapella! has fun in Toussaint’s playgrounds, brachiating from bar to bar and singing from the diaphragm with warmth and undisguised pleasure. It’s the rare single-artist salute that can stand up proudly next to the source material, and ultimately a testament to Cleary’s own talents that he measures up so well next to a giant. (DC)
Dennis’ Other Bonus Review:
Paul Thorn: What The Hell Is Goin’ On? (Perpetual Obscurity)
The bidness of God and the Devil gets mucked around in on enduringly excellent yet not nearly as well known as he should be singer-songwriter-blues-rocker Thorn’s new covers album, What The Hell Is Goin’ On? (released May 8). Thorn’s growl has never been more menacing or downright sexy before as he sinks his incisors into songs by Lindsey Buckingham, Big Al Anderson, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Eli “Paperboy” Reed, Buddy Miller, Rick Danko and more. Rather than one of those limp dick cover tune collections that just seem random and sad – I’m looking at just about anything along these lines a major label has put out in the past 30 years – Thorn invests himself in material he loves, singing ‘em like it ain’t the first time he’s sought incarnation in their spaces. This is gospel with a kick – say a baptism where you get a shot of rotgut as you come out of the water. Elvin Bishop sits in on the title cut (which he penned), and Delbert McClinton contributes vocals to Wild Bill Emerson’s Bull Mountain Bridge, an album highlight. And the hellish bacchanal cover painting – by Thorn – ranks amongst the coolest, stare-at-it while stoned album jackets in ages. If this is what they played in church on Sunday I might be more tempted to join the choir. (DC)
Ron’s Pick of the Week:
Steve Barton: Projector (Sleepless)
If there is one band from the late 70s/early 80s who deserves to get more props than it has received in the wake of the whole post-punk/new wave revival of the last 10-odd years, its psychedelic jangle rockers Translator from San Francisco, who just released their first collection of new material in 26 years with the seven-track mini-LP Big Green Lawn. But perhaps even better than that hotly anticipated reunion set is the new solo album from the group’s frontman Steve Barton. Produced by Lone Justice co-founder Marvin Etzioni, Projector is the singer-guitarist’s debut foray into lo-fi territory, as these 12 songs were worked up on a four-track at his home immediately following the passing of his father, a former voice actor for NBC radio, before being mastered on two-inch reel-to-reel tape. Though he was inspired by the likes of The Beatles’ White Album and John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band, Projector seems more in tune with the homemade hiss of early GBV and Daniel Johnston with a twinge of I Often Dream of Trains-era Robyn Hitchcock to keep things from going completely off the rails. Yet regardless of the sonic quality of the material contained within this recording, the heartfelt sentiments of loss and mourning rise above the endearingly dodgy fidelity on songs like These 4 Walls, Elegy in D Barton and Super Fantastic Guy, allowing Barton to reveal himself in ways he never could with Translator or his other band, The Oblivion Click (featuring the dude who played Cousin Oliver on The Brady Bunch behind the drum kit). This is a masterful and challenging record that ought to be placed alongside the first two Translator albums as one of the absolute high watermarks in the career of this most underrated rock icon. (Ron Hart)
Ron’s Runner-Up of the Week:
Peter Gabriel: New Blood Live In London (Real World)
2011’s New Blood saw Peter Gabriel follow-up his ingenious 2010 song-swap album Scratch My Back where he performed orchestral versions of songs by the likes of David Bowie, Radiohead, Bon Iver and Talking Heads with an equally beguiling compendium of symphonic rewrites from the cream of his own back catalog. Now both projects co-exist hand-in-hand on the illuminating soundtrack to last year’s Live in London DVD/Blu-Ray that sees Gabriel and his 46-piece New Blood Orchestra tear down the walls of the Hammersmith Apollo with a seamless blend of his most beloved compositions like In Your Eyes, Red Rain, Digging In The Dirt, Biko, Wallflower, Intruder and Solsbury Hill with powerful live interpretations of such Scratch highlights as Paul Simon’s Boy In The Bubble, Lou Reed’s The Power of the Heart and The Magnetic Fields’ The Book of Love. Perhaps even more than Plays Live or Secret World Live, New Blood Live In London is a quintessential testament to the beauty, grace and unpredictability of the Peter Gabriel concert experience. (RH)
Ron’s Bonus Review:
Beach House: Bloom (Sub Pop)
Watching Beach House play cat and mouse with the indie blogosphere over the existence of their forth LP earlier this year was a sobering exercise on everything wrong about rock journalism in the 21st century. But Bloom (released May 15) has proven to be worth every inch of the hyperbolic ambulance chase across the cool table of the Internet, as the Baltimore duo of Alex Scally and Victoria Legrand take their distinct spin on the dream pop formula to the next level of craftsmanship. Recorded with Chris Coady (Smith Westerns, Gang Gang Dance, TV On The Radio) at Sonic Ranch Studios in Tornillo, Texas and mixed at the legendary Electric Lady in New York City, the 10 songs that comprise Bloom are made to be heard in a singular listen, with each composition weaving into and out of one another in a fenceless narrative on the frailty of existentialism that features their most vibrant, realized playing yet. Don’t wait until after spring to allow Bloom to grow on you. (RH)