Friday, September 23, 2005

New Music

Since I have had very little to blog about lately, I thought I would talk about the new music I've heard recently.

Bill Frisell, East/West--Frisell is always great. This is his second live album and the first in a least a decade. Having seen a show on the tour that the "West" disc is drawn from, I can say that not only does this album recreate a Frisell show very well, but also that the music represents the many kind of things that Frisell does. Over the last several years, he has interpreted a great many classic songs in his own style, something that he does remarkably well. From the "West" CD that I saw, he covers "Hard Rain's A Gonna Fall" and "I Heard It Through the Grapevine." On the "East" disc he covers several songs, ranging from "Goodnight Irene" to "Tennessee Flat Top Box" to Henry Mancini's theme from Days of Wine and Roses. He also plays tunes of his "Intercontinentals" album and older albums as well. Personally, I like Frisell better in a slightly larger band than the guitar/bass/drums trio, but nonetheless this works very well and is an excellent example of his music.

Richard Thompson, Front Parlour Ballads--Richard Thompson hasn't put out a lot of albums over the past several years. I believe that this is his 2nd of the decade, though there is his performance from Austin City Limits as well. This is a pretty typical Thompson album with witty lyrics, weirdo songs at the end of the album, and great guitar playing throughout. I'm not sure that I would recommend this album over some of his other albums, but really, with the exception of the truly remarkable albums, they all tend to kind of blend together for me. That sounds like a backhanded compliment, but it's really not. All the albums are at least really good. If Front Parlour Ballads isn't quite as good as Shoot Out The Lights or Rumor and Sigh, well, neither are 99.99% of the albums in the world. The one real change with this album is that it is all acoustic and with few backing musicians. I kind of like electric RT better, but this works very well too.

Buddy Tabor, Hope: The First Step Toward Disillusionment. Never has a title said so much about a songwriter. Like RT, Buddy Tabor's albums often tend to run together, and again in that very positive way. No one else writes song like these. Like many of his albums, this is a combination of political tunes ("Jesus Loves Me More Than He Loves You"), sociological observations ("Methamphetamines"), songs about Alaska ("Caribou Song"), as well as songs about love, loss, and life. Just wonderful stuff. Two songs particularly stand out for me here. "Methamphetamines" is about Roseburg, Oregon, a town about 60 miles south of where I grew up. In this one, Buddy talks about how the shutdown of the lumber industry has affected the people of the town, with the story centering around a body shop mechanic and a meth junkie/whore that the guy knows who services the men at the log truck stop. (This is a true story evidentially). I have to find a way to incorporate this into my dissertation. The second song that really stands out is "Scatter My Ashes." This is the best song to end an album that I've heard in a long time. It's a basic story of a cowboy dying far away from civilization. This is a story that's been told a million times before, but rarely as well as this. If this is an album you're interested in, let me know since I don't think you can get it very easily.

Ry Cooder, Chavez Ravine--Cooder tells the story of the transformation of Chavez Ravine from a Hispanic community in LA to the home of Dodger Stadium within the context of the early Cold War and Red Scare of the 1950s. Cooder uses legends of Hispanic-California music such as Lalo Guerrero to tell these stories. Like most concept albums like this, it doesn't always hold together song to song. There's a kind of weird diversion into UFOs where a time traveler warns the residents of Chavez Ravine what is to happen to them. I'm not sure what this and a couple of other songs really accomplish, but overall this is a pretty good album with great music. Moreover, it has to be the best album ever about urban planning, a topic with untapped potential.

In the category of old albums that I've recently acquired, let me suggest Terry Allen's Juarez. Allen is more known for his sculpture than his music, but his music is really great. Juarez is certainly an odd piece. Developed in the mid 70s to go along with one of his art exhibits, it tells the story of 4 people who meet and shoot it out in Cortez, Colorado and ends with the two living ones escaping to Juarez. It's not exactly a country album, but I don't know what else to call it. It's mostly just Terry Allen on his piano telling these stories, sometimes through talking, usually through singing. My wife hated it but I find it a fascinating tale of the modern West and the border region. Some of his other albums such as Lubbock (On Everything) and Bloodlines are more traditional country I suppose. I'm also high on Terry Allen and these songs because I saw him play a show in Austin last year--like me he lives in Santa Fe but he hardly ever plays anywhere. The show kicked some serious ass. I didn't expect that. It rocked hard in a country way, including on a couple of these songs that are just piano on the album.

My wife recently got the new Death Cab for Cutie album and just ordered the Iron & Wine/Calexico EP--I'll try to review these when I get a chance to listen to them a couple of times.

Also, if you don't have Emiliana Torrini's Fisherman's Woman, get it. Get it now.