Elle Varner/Saint Etienne
Songs of Experience and of More Experience
Elle Varner: Perfectly Imperfect (RCA)
Especially by the standards of r&b divas who share management with Lauryn and Alicia, she's funny‑-referring to her liver as "her" in "Oh What a Night," requesting an erectile version of the title item in "Refill," bemoaning her looks in a closer she presumably wrote well before the cover shoot. She's disciplined‑-10 of 11 songs between 3:07 and 4:09. She hones her God-given vocal intensity with little recourse to belting or melisma, and she keeps the grit under control, although the final minute of "Damn Good Friends" should have been crooned or even cooed. And with help from an actual-count 18 confederates, she sharpens herself some hooks‑-by my count, six of the 11 tracks connect instantly, with the heart songs lagging as usual. Just pray she sticks with her strengths and continues to confederate exactly as much as she needs. A MINUS
Saint Etienne: Travel Edition 1990-2005 (Sub Pop '04)
My appetite whetted by their comeback album and my excess weight indicator tripped by the two-CD "All the a-sides and more!" London Conversations, I sought out a used copy of this single-disc best-of and found it good‑-enjoying the two tracks it lifts from 1998's Good Humor, for instance, more than the two I highlighted in my brief. Saint Etienne's problem has always been melodies and arrangements a little too unobtrusive for Sarah Cracknell's compassionate calm and unshowy smarts. Their everything-but-the-glitz disco asserts itself so subtly that only the early "Mario's Cafe" and the late, atypically (and of course subtly) political "Heart Failed (In the Back of a Taxi)" look you square in the eye and say classic. Still, when Cracknell quietly announces "I believe in Donovan over Dylan/Love over cynicism," you begin to wonder whether Donovan's as big a fool as you thought even though you know damn well he is. Cracknell manifestly isn't. Even though many of the love songs here are the sad kind, she's figured out how to keep her mind clear and her chin up. A MINUS
Current listening: Multiple versions of "Bul Ma Min" by Orchestra Baobab. Play that funky music, Barthelemy.
That's a great story Greg. Happy Anniversary. Let me know the next time you guys are in Seattle and we'll swap stories.
Tying together references to David Murray and wonderful, overlooked record labels, let me say that Murray is one of my Top Five interviews of all time -- witty, intelligent, articulate, engaged, frank (couple anecdotes about Elvin Jones and Stanley Crouch didn't make the printed version) and just a helluva guy, really. In a magic stretch of the '80s and '90s, it seemed like he played Boston at least once a year and even recorded a live album in a little hole of a club (Green Street Grill) down the street from where I lived (it's only so-so*). And of course Murray recorded for Black Saint/Soul Note and for those who aren't aware, the catalog is being reissued in re-mastered box sets --
-- click on "box sets."
There's an oddity with pricing in that the multi-multi-disc sets only cost a modest amount more than the smaller sets, so start with your most prolific fave (mine was George Russell).
*To be clear: both the place and the album.
2 observations: a. the above contains a convincing explanation of why women's list-making geekiness in regard to books rarely carries over to music (hint: male music geeks are a huge part of the problem) and b. I am not proud to say that I have far too often been That Guy.
Sorry if I'm being ocd (not sure you saw my reply to Allen's correction below), but the title is "Heart Failed (In the Back of a Taxi)".
Small article on Dylan in Aug. 16 issue, Ham.
That's all I'm aware of. Actual review hasn't been released yet as far as I know.
I hear Chris Matthews ripped into the RNC chairman on msnbc-tv .
I read the transcript. Great stuff, Chris. He took a page out of Aaron Sorkin's HBO
drama "The Newsroom" (getting better every episode-season 1 just ended though)-
where the republicans and their henchmen have been taking it on the chin-by name-
the last couple of episodes.Catch up if you haven't seen this show. I look forward
to seeing the actual interview where this occurred on youtube or wherever.
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.