Patterson Hood/Dylan Hicks
Patterson Hood: Heat Lightning Rumbles in the Distance (ATO)
Hood earned this avowedly autobiographical album by creating fictional and fictionalized characters for 20 years. Its dozen songs were conceived to bait a memoiristic account of a turbulent period or two in his twenties, but the book stopped coming midway through so he made an album out of them instead. Sweetly skeletal arrangements featuring various bandmates and his bassist dad underpin the quietest and most winning singing of his career, with lyrics so crystalline you never need the booklet. But you can bet their import would be clearer if the book was there too. B PLUS
Dylan Hicks: Sings Bolling Greene (Two Deuces)
This is complicated. Minneapolis critic and singer-songwriter Hicks recently published a debut novel called Boarded Windows, about which you can believe Dana Spiotta ("eloquent and unusual") and Greil Marcus ("whispered, confided, mused") or you can believe me ("buncha bohos wax clever about art until you want to paste someone"). Its seventh most important character is a country-singing aesthete of implausible renown named Bolling Greene. But these aren't simply Hicks's renditions of Greene's previously nonexistent songs. They're also songs about goings on in the novel itself to which Greene couldn't have been privy as well as a leftover about a golf course that, as Greene's widow complains in the notes, it's impossible to imagine the vaguely delineated cult hero writing. I love the first four and like all 10, because the same fine distinctions that make my teeth hurt at 252 pages are piquant at a hooky half hour of rhymes I can ignore at will. If you crave concrete detail in your songwriting, here's your fix, from "West Texas wind/Blowing headlines in my lap/Lonely Man Takes Nap/Chubby Girl Learns Tap" to "The musty olive carpet/The sticky minibar/The grainy baby movie/The broken VCR." A MINUS
As the Brits say, "leave it out!" Most certainly not -- let us not forget that the main course of EW is Bob's reviews -- the comments are the bittersweet digestif. And Bob is, as they say in Amsterdam, a "trademark of quality" and therefore one of those respected outlets I mentioned.
I still have as much to listen to as I can handle (today is a catch-up day, in fact), but PR operations don't see the need to send me enough major-artist releases nowadays, and it does seem, as Tom Hull put it, the percentage of crap is on the rise.
However, today is also "put away and organize all the festering piles of books and CDs" day and although I am shedding discs, LPs and bound volumes at an unprecedented rate for the past couple years, days like this it still feels like there's way, way too much.
And spoonknife, your description of One Beat matches mine exactly. But now I've got to find an excuse to go on a drive so i can concentrate on it at my preferred volume to make good my promise to Kenny.
Work, work, work.
And to Milo and Tom: We are all the poorer for this turn of events, whatever the causes. I'd hate to think that a blog site like this one is a contributor to the roaring torrent of informal media noise, but it probably is. We kill what we love by overdoing it, yet seem incapable of stopping. Is that the strength and weakness of a a free society wrapped up in one?
Change that to simply "records" and I think most reviewers are in much the same sad boat these days. I hate it. Old Fart or not, downloading to scan promo is way more hassle for me than grabbing discs from a pile and giving a spin -- that whole process can be over in less than five minutes and I can get more done as a series of titles play. And more and more you're pressured to declare serious interest in something you haven't even heard.
The one bright spot is that performers have told me good write-ups in respected outlets are in some ways more important than ever, what with the torrents of informal media noise roaring nonstop.
Thanks for caring. I think I better shut up now.
Thanks for the jazz recommendations, Nate.
As for "Far Away", you're taking "I" to mean "we". That's the collective responsibility part, right? I didn't hear it that way before. Interesting.
Couple/three excellent jazz releases I haven’t seen mentioned here or elsewhere (“elsewhere” meaning Hull’s or Monsen’s sites--I should get out more).
Trio M: The Guest House--Myra Melford is intimidating as only a credentialed avant-garde pianist can be: Don Pullen protegee, Henry Threadgill and Butch Morris connections, thirst for discordant abstraction, off-the-scale talent and compositional genius. Here she hooks up with Mark Dresser on bass and Matt Wilson on drums (pick up the same group’s 2006 Big Picture while you’re out shopping) and somehow they come up with the most rhythmically irresistible jazz of the year. Begins with Wilson channeling Ziggy Modeliste under some of Myra’s catchiest discordant abstractions, then leads into the aptly-titled “Don Knotts” (it’s pretty jittery!). Further in, things veer toward the atmospheric and the plain gorgeous while maintaining the pulse, but on the African-sounding closer the two M’s loosen their ties and take Myra out dancing. A late 2011 release but I don’t know if anyone heard it in 2011. If it counts as 2012 it's a cinch for my top ten.
Nico Gori/Fred Hersch: Da Vinci--In 2008, after a two-month coma and the nearest near-death experience God allows before He calls you to your great reward, the very great pianist Fred Hersch built up his muscles enough to walk and play the piano again, then he got busy, putting out some of the best records of his career (I just gulped down both discs of his new Alive At The Vanguard without a break). Here he shares credit with an Italian clarinetist I’ve never heard of for an album of stately duets: mostly Hersch originals, one Gori tune, a couple of fairly arcane standards plus a closing “Tea For Two” that stands with Monk and Murray/Arvanitas. The Italian clarinetist turns out to be terrific, and this serves as the ideal introduction to Hersch the composer, containing unbeatable versions of some of his most indelible tunes (“Mandevilla” and “Down Home” in particular).
Benoit Delbecq: Crescendo In Duke--A classically-trained French pianist usually so austere he makes Myra Melford sound like Leon Russell: who better to lead an Ellington tribute? But there’s nothing austere about it. Leading two superb American bands, Delbecq leans down hard on Duke’s neglected late copyrights (“The Goutelas Suite” in its entirety!), and with odd touches everywhere (African percussion and electric bass on “Portrait Of Wellman Braud”) creates something completely fresh.
And if this is the year of the Old Guy in music (Dylan, Cohen, Wainwright, hey Jimmy Cliff, why not) can I get at least a couple of you to take a shot on Robert Cray’s new Nothin’ But Love? I swear, it’s the best batch of new songs the guy’s come up with in at least twenty years, with two absolute classics: “I’m Done Cryin’”, about a good man holding onto his dignity after his job is shut down and sent overseas (“They put the blame on the unions, like they always do”), and “Side Dish”, about how easy it is to lose your place as someone’s main course (“Turnip! Don’t cry, french fry! Carrots! Boiled carrots at that!”). Great cover photo too (what a car! what a suit!). Bonus track is a live Magic Sam cover you ought to hear (mistakenly credited at Allmusic to Pee Wee King for some reason, which would make it a Patti Page/Dean Martin/Dovells cover).
I hope our divergence makes Lurker happy. H-h-h!!!
See you all tomorrow morning when the sun shines on some new tunes.
But "Ballad of a Ladyman"? I love that song, and think it's an incredibly descriptive lyric about how women are guided to find a place in the entertainment industry, and in all of society by extension. And then, how Corin thumbs her nose at that guidance. I wouldn't be surprised if this first part actually happened to her.
"They say i've gone too far
with the image i've got and
they know i'd make a mint
with new plastic skin
and a hit on the radio!
Oh, tempations of a ladyman
I could be demure like
girls who are soft for
boys who are fearful of
getting an earful
but i gotta rock!"
That right there is a perspective worth going out of my way to make sure my daughters are introduced to.
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.