Thursday, June 5, 2008

Casual Listening 6-6-08

Casual Listening

a review of cool new music

by Jeff Pinzino

Two weeks ago, I missed the Death Cab for Cutie release because of computer issues. After hearing it, I can testify that it’s really good, but don’t take my word for it. Listen to it, write up a paragraph, and send it to me. As penance for missing it the first time, I’ll print all the reviews I receive in the blog next week. Jeff’s reviews are at this week, including Fleet Foxes, In The Heights, Tim Hockenberry, and more. Meanwhile, this week’s column is from “Stump Pandora” winner Bob Palmer, a recent subscriber who has ridiculously good taste in music.

June 8, 2008

I’ve chosen to primarily write about some of my favorite albums that have come out since the beginning of 2007—most from long-time favorite musicians and a few from those who are new to me. If I had to describe my tastes, I would say I gravitate towards catchy tunes with heartfelt/meaningful lyrics and traditional but adventurous instrumentation. Most importantly, however, I connect to musicians who through their singing and/or playing communicate to me in what feels like their “own voice”. My favorite time to listen to music is late at night when I find it most easy to commune with the sounds!

Muhal Richard Abrams, Visions Towards Essence (Pi Recordings)

This is a record that requires more than casual listening, since Muhal Richard Abrams isn’t much interested in catchy tunes. With careful listening of these compositions, however, all sorts of beautiful melodies and rhythms will become apparent out of the seeming chaos of notes played during this solo piano concert.

Jorge Ben, Força Bruta (Dusty Groove)

This was originally released in 1970 by one of the musicians associated with the Tropicália movement in 1960s Brazil. In part a political movement celebrating both tradition and freedom, musically Tropicália was a mélange of bossa nova, rock and roll, Bahian folk music, African music, and Portuguese fado—a definition I stole from Wikipedia that I can’t improve upon. All you really need to know though is that there is great groove to be found here.

Sir Richard Bishop, While My Guitar Violently Bleeds (Locust Music)

On the opening track, Sir Richard Bishop plays 7 minutes of solo acoustic guitar fusing American primitive, flamenco and undoubtedly other styles that I don’t recognize and/or can’t name. The next song is 12 minutes of overdubbed electric guitar, feedback and other electronic noise that actually sounded good in the car during a recent late night drive south on I-55 through central Illinois. The 25-minute final track wonderfully integrates the characteristics of both pieces, with an emphasis on the former.

Robert Forster, The Evangelist (Yep Roc)

This is Robert Forster’s first solo album since the 2005 death of his partner in the Go-Betweens, Grant McLennan. This is power pop, but the power comes primarily from the delivery of the mostly somber lyrics and a restrained melodocism. One of the things I’ve always liked about Robert Forster is that he sounds exactly like the well-read, middle class Australian bohemian (now well into middle age) who can be both joyful and dour that he (apparently) is.

Joe Higgs, Life of Contradiction (Pressure Sounds)

Even without his own music, Joe Higgs would be justly celebrated for coaching the Bob Marley and the Wailers in harmonizing back when they were teenagers in Jamaica. Higgs only released a few albums during his lifetime before dying in 1999 at the age of 59. Just re-released, this album was recorded in 1972 and has only intermittently been available since. Many of these songs of struggle and hope imprinted themselves in my memory after just a few listens.

Michael Hurley, Ancestral Swamp (Gnomonsong Recordings)

Folkie, painter and comic book artist, Michael Hurley’s alter egos Boone and Jocko are two hipster wolves who are into road trips, red wine, women, and 8-track tapes. This 2007 album isn’t much different than the 15 or so other albums he has made during the last forty-plus years; Michael and some friends get together to play songs about simple pleasures, having the blues, and ramblin’.

Omme Kolsoum, La Diva II (EMI Music Arabia)

Omme Kolsoum (also spelled Umm Kulthum and seemingly endless other ways) is the Egyptian musician I picked that stumped Pandora in Jeff’s contest a few weeks ago. This is the CD that introduced me to her several years ago after I read that Bob Dylan had once said Omme Kolsoum was his favorite singer. Apparently Beatles-like in terms of her cultural impact in Egypt, her heyday was from the 1930’s through the 1960s. From what I’ve read, the lyrics range the gamut from adaptations of romantic love poetry to celebrating national independence. Coincidentally, NPR just did a story about her that you can listen to at

Danbert Norbacon and the Pine Valley Cosmonauts, Library Book of the World (Bloodshot)

Leeds-bred Danbert Norbacon has a big, deep voice that he uses to sing about humanity being slowly murdered by multinational corporations and global warming. Chicago’s own Pine Valley Cosmonauts provide honky-tonk backing for the protest songs that work because the singer sounds genuinely angry. Thankfully, he’s got a sense of humor, too, and he even has a song about the pleasures about being in love with a pop song. Sample lyrics: “petro-dollars makes the world go round, but the arms trade tells it when to spin.”

Amy Rigby, 18 Again: An Anthology (Koch)

This compilation isn’t new, it was released in 2002, but I just listened to it again and wanted to write about it. Consisting mostly of songs released on three previous albums, Amy delivers great pop hooks and funny, poignant lyrics from the point of view of single mom who has her own rock band. Sample lyrics: “She's got her self esteem and the American dream but her chances of advancing are ten thousand to one.” Amy is still making great records, most recently Little Fugitive.

Lucinda Williams, West (Lost Highway)

Musically, this is perhaps Lucinda’s most heavily produced—dare I say L.A.-sounding—record. However, Lucinda’s voice and lyrics keep her folk and country roots in the forefront. Emotions and tempos run the gamut. In one song Lucinda sincerely hopes a former lover who “flew away like a little bird” is doing alright and in another she berates another former lover for not being able to give her an orgasm. A great collection of ballads and rockin’ tunes from Lucinda!

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