The Henry Clay People/Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
They Try Harder
The Henry Clay People: Twenty-Five for the Rest of Our Lives (ATO)
Soundbites‑-well, wordbites‑-song by song. "We don't know how to die." "I'm making sense of all the senseless/I'm getting wrecked with all the reckless." "We found some jobs and paid off our loans/Then we lost our jobs and let your parents know/That you'll be movin' home." "Every band we ever loved/Is selling out or breaking up/Finding out the limits of their reach." "Give it up and come on out/That stupid dream is over." "You are the property of privilege/Now you are learning how to live with it." "You wanna taste a taste of the tasteless/We can waste away with the wasted." "And I can move to the country/But that won't solve anything." "One mistake too many fights three nights/You pay for the rest of your life." "Friends are forgetting/We're getting too tired to try/Keeping up with each other/So we leave them behind." "Not that it ever made a difference/Back when we were innocent/Oh-oh-oh." Pretty impressive. Problem? More than half the songs sound effectively the same. Rocking, absolutely. Tighter, too. Tuneful, in their way. But imagine the Replacements without Westerberg's hookfinder and you'll understand the limits of their reach. B PLUS
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis: The Heist (self-released)
The question isn't whether this Seattle alt-rapper is a cornball, it's whether he's so dumb he's a cornball or so brave he's a cornball. The answer is "Same Love," the best gay marriage song to date in any genre and as corny as it damn well oughta be. Sure there's too much "who I really was," too much "a life lived for art is never a life wasted." And though the co-billed Lewis is big and original for an alt-beatmaker, his percussion-oriented version of an E Street Band, strings-swell-to-big-finish aesthetic has its icky moments. But as someone who shares Macklemore's moral views if not his equation of sincerity with soul, I find only the alcoholic's confession "Neon Cathedral" too much, and that one's counteracted by the relapser's confession "Starting Over," just as "Sayin' `That's poetry, it's so well-spoken,' stop it" counteracts his art talk. He's especially good on old cars and old clothes. B PLUS
"I've shown that first 1968 Elvis boxing ring set to a number of twentyish kids and they've been blown away."
The reason I cracked wise about this is because it's missing my point. I never claimed yout of today would find Elvis a snore or even unsexy. I was hardly shocked that Graceland was not an Old Folks Attraction (though it was interesting that the crowd at Sun Studios was notably younger).
My point is that Elvis in 1956 can only happen once. Hell, even I was too young for Elvis the Bombshell. Didn't apprehend him properly until after he was dead, as a matter of fact. Given the overwhelming dominance of "Happy Days," *Grease* and *American Graffiti*, maybe the single biggest hurdle is making people feel how disenfranchised and unimportant teenagers and youth culture in general once were.
Next, I certainly agree with Bob that Hackamore Brick is a "B" ("an admirable effort that aficionados of the style or artist will probably find quite listenable," which nods to my VU fascination); and especially never understood what was supposed to be so transcendent about the girl-out-the-window song.
I also agree that the Serpent Power is a far superior LP -- but in a final, peculiar footnote for me, I came across two copies of the Hackamore Brick album (years apart, but still) and it was on the always-elusive Kama Sutra label. I never encountered the Serpent Power until it was reissued on CD -- and it came out on frickin' *Vanguard*, which was forever all over the place. Weird.
Whether or not you enjoy Hackamore Brick, I can't think of too many lists of recommended records with a higher batting average than Marcus' Stranded discography.
Subtle maybe, but very, very precise.
Gosh, maybe I am nostalgic. I'll stop now. The Kinks, prime rib. Yum.
Karin Berg was on that record too. R.I.P.
You had them secretly tape peer-to-peer responses? Terrific! Be sure to link to the published results.
"This audition tape by the Venus in Furs Society--a record collectors club whose firsthand contact with "decadence" consists of one DMT experience and moderate quantities of oral sex--bears a spooky resemblance to The Velvet Underground (LP number three, the lyrical one). Chick Newman's sour pitch has the deadpan emotional resonance of Lou Reed's, only folkier and more sanguine. The flat, droning beat is pure Maureen Tucker. And the organ solos are obviously an hommage to John Payne of the Serpent Power. B"
Because I was deeply fascinated by the VU. And, you know, that kind of hick experience wasn't exactly a contemptible nothing.
The later Greil remarks seem ... oh, just crazy. Unrelated self-justification.
I ran across the record early and it gave me a glimmer of hope that the VU might become a big thing some day. Guess that was misguided and I should feel bad about my moment of delusion.
Edit: FWIW, I just got the reload button to work. But since that has been happening every once in a while, I'd appreciate continued thumbing.
This is one of those curious things. It's almost impossible to get across now how striking and exciting some VU nods were from a band at that time. Exactly as it's impossible to convey to a class of kids today how, in ways they can't imagine, Elvis was insanely sexy, pornographic and disturbing when he was new. Some of us lived for hints of Iggy and VU like button-down '50s teens lusted for some overt signs that sex was cool not dirty and that hanging loose and going wild as the King was not criminal. (I know the scale is way different, but the latter-day problem is quite the same.)
What does this count for in ultimate evaluation? I'm not sure. But it shouldn't be forgotten.
Essential historically but not historic. Influence is measured in inches not Velvet Oceans. First wave of many future wavers.
Since the Witness subjects are running hither and thither, I'd like to offer a quick salute to the recently deceased Dutch-Congolese saxophonist John Tchicai. I saw him play twice -- once with a bunch of fellow Amsterdammers led by Misha Mengelberg and then fronting a small group in a local yoga center (!?!), both times his easy meld of noise and gentleness, reflective and headlong, won your head and heart at the same time.
The Big Bombs, in order, are:
The New York Art Quartet, S/T (if you respond strongly to this, you should pick up *Old Stuff* right away)
Archie Shepp with the New York Contemporary Five (a fundamental riff on Ornette)
John Coltrane, *Ascension* (this is about getting into Tchicai, so this ranks third because as a sweet soul, he's a bit muscled aside here)
As to Later Days:
Pierre Dorge & New Jungle Orchestra, *Very Hot Even the Moon Is Dancing* (1985)
(finest early outing of the pan-cultural big band featuring Tchicai -- it's a fine outfit you may find you need to explore more -- look for the outings with Johnny Dyani)
*John Tchicai With Strings* (2005)
The strings are synthesized and very unobtrusive when they are there at all. Mostly a quartet with surprisingly successful sampling, electronics, and still full lyricism. Ends with a lovely piece set to a poem by Steve Dalachinsky.
If you become a fan after all this, an interesting supplement is John Tchicai and Cadentia Nova Danca, *Afrodisiaca* (1969 on MPS), where he tackles his own big band and string sections. There are flubs, so you have to be on his side already -- then, however, fascinating.
Listening to Buena Vista Social Club in 24 bit - the sound is perfect, the music to me much better than the honorable mention status. If I were doing a poll this would be up there in the 15-20 point range along with Check Your Head.
I freaking love that Jo Dee Messina song.
about the blogger
Starting in 1967, Robert Christgau has covered popular music for The Village Voice, Esquire, Blender, Playboy, Rolling Stone, and many other publications. He teaches in New York University's Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music, maintains a comprehensive website at robertchristgau.com, and has published five books based on his journalism. He has written for MSN Music since 2006.
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