REVIEWS 2001/2002 BY SDB FOR BUCKETFULL
HOORAY FOR THE MOON
Jon Dee Graham is as solid as moonrock no dust
on him. He's hurtled like a comet through the Austin music scene
with the True Believers, backed great individual artists - Kelly
Willis, John Doe, Michelle Shocked and still found time as he
mellowed slightly to bring out three solo discs. Last of these
Summerland was marked by some great songs played with a softer
touch. Had the hard rock heart gone out of him. Was a life buried
in Texas middle age dust beckoning. Well despite the mellow father
image and his middle-age the good news is he ain't. First track,
produced in LA as opposed to Austin, is a firecracker. So the
comet returns. Maybe not quite burning with the True Believers
intensity but with some solid songs in his wake. The tracks have
great titles The Restraining Order Song for instance or The Huisache
Tree. There's a knocked off quality and modesty to them that belies
the honest craftsmanship at work. At first the rockier production
and sheen was off-putting but repeated listening revealed a wealth
of subtlety as in the finger-picked intro to I Go Too that wouldn't
disgrace a Dave Alvin album.
There's also an acknowledgment of his Mexican influences on Volver
that includes Tejano artist Little Joe. No fake roots show this
it is a part of the man.
There are obvious influences. Listen to his rendition of the Waits
gem Way Down In The Hole and it's obvious he permeates a lot of
Graham's approach beyond the gravel bottom voice. Laredo (small
dark something) could have come from one of Waits's nightmares.
All in all a pretty solid set of songs and another step up for
the kid from Quemado,Texas where a bright moon on a dark desert
night was a welcome sight. Hooray for the moon indeed chico.
pond of millennium year two recordings fell with such force that
they're still leaving ripples on the bank. The first was Migala's
journey into the heart of darkness 'Arde' and the second came
with a spilled pomegranate on the cover and stains throughout.
Diana Darby's debut is as good as I've ever heard. Forget Gillian
Welch / Lucinda Williams when it comes to poetry as song this
young woman out of Houston is tapping into the duende. A surface
shimmer of punk/pop and brooding English folk laps at the feet
of the ghost of Sandy Denny as she skirts the lake of the blues.
The subject matter skims across abuse and sorrow with a voice
that literally feels as if the sky is crying. The hands rowing
the boat are experienced. Will Rigby of the DB's, Mark Spencer
of the Blood Oranges, Mark Bosquist etc. The backings are as precise
and evocative as copper etchings behind the fragile figure in
a print dress. Like listening to trees fade and wither. The overall
feel is mid seventies in a way and I kept thinking of Planet Waves.
Standout tracks are the Appalachian ballad 'Malcolm's Song', 'Sarah'
and the almost Blondie meets Patti Smith 'She won't be quiet no
more' but really it's a near faultless first recording. Diana
Darby is now resident in Nashville and is teaching poetry. Looks
like the worlds of literature and song may be the richer for that.
A black dog turned up on her doorstep and never left
pays tribute in a mellow country form to both Nick Drake and Jesse
Winchester's songs of that title but leaves us with the sound
of pure Darby. Closer 'Amelia' is a Leonard Cohen tune made completely
and there are stains on the carpet in her house of
the setting sun.
Recording Company 2001
is fragile, pastel colours - feathers and leaves. A bit like the
music inside. Lyrics are sparse, intimate, off kilter musings on
relationships, failure, intimate distances. Phelan has scratched
these surfaces before in previous group South and more recently
with fellow Jagjaguwar label bands Drunk and Spokane. His antecedents
are plain but somehow there's more than the obvious bossa-nova hints,
the fake-jazz flourishes. Basically the reason he gets away with
such preciousness is because a) it's so well recorded and b) he
can write a tune and c) he has a beautifully understated folky voice.
There are a lot of wonderful moments on this record and it really
repays close listening. There is even a lovely ambient instrumental
track that somehow hints at a west coast vibe. That's what separates
this disc from the more run of the mill 'abstract' records around.
Whilst treading on the thin ice of the new age lake it remains tightly
focussed and balanced because of the breadth of references. Think
Calexico if they'd spent the winter in the far north snowed in with
Glass and Cage, Eno and a set of minimalist paintings for company.
The lyrical are sparse but reveal hidden depths. Jagjaguwar have
also released a CD of poet Robert Creeley recorded by a member of
one of their bands. All in all there's a hell of a lot going on
at that label. Maybe a new Black Mountain is rising up above the
indie mists. Meanwhile this is a record to immerse in and try and
catch the echoes of "the snow beneath/ these icy leaves".
||In the darkness
let there be light and as the storm clouds gather U.S.A. songster/preacher
Bill Mallonee and a cut down VOL threesome, along with various other
musical apostles, deliver their most focussed and brightest work
yet. Years of touring and seven or more albums in and he is still
fired by a democratic Christian intensity. The cover itself is resplendent
with a vivid red flower and the whole production and ambition shown
here suggests that VOL are picking up the early REM crown from the
dusty highway and driving onward. The lyrics are as lyrical as ever
- moonlight, starlight, dreams…Bill has never been one content with
the dirt when he has stars to aim for. The title track is beautifully
crafted, dripping in harmony and that REM-like jangle careering
on like the first Byrds track of the 21st century. Mallonee is also
a consummate solo acoustic performer and the Beatlesque slowdown
of Galaxy[gonna be alright] survives it's dreamy backing long enough
to hurtle itself at the stars. There is personal balladry too but
again set off by shimmering backing tracks. Then a hint of the brothers
Davies in Stand Beside me before the surrealistic lyrics of S.O.S.[The
Crush of Velvet Glove Starlight] and I guess only Bill knows what
that is about but the backing is superb. Then the prophetic Putting
Out Fires With Gasoline a punky take on the spirit of Five Miles
High..'..back in the U.K. , "still I can't come down".."it's a disney
world trailer park from here to kingdom come" well if it wasn't
already it might soon be and you can be sure that like Wesley on
his horse Bill will be there shining a torch into the darkness trying
to glimpse salvation. The strings and acoustic guitars of Green
Summer Lawn evoke the Kinks and Beatles again before the album heads
into the sunset with another typically REM-strum-along and final
act Sailors[The Reddest Room] which is more like a John Stewart
ballad and magical.. a word that sums up this chapter in the VOL
Third album and the Spanish combo known as Migala
spread their collective angel wings. Perhaps it is the increasing
recognition overseas ( Subpop singles end of 2000) or the increasing
sophistication of the avant-indie end of things in general as
in Godspeed, Oldham, Calexico etc that has brought this gumbo
to the boil. Second instrumental track 'El caballo del malo' outshines
the Tuscon twosome with the swirling radio-dial electronica meshing
with the sons of Morricone soundtrack. Then with a savage edit
it sounds like we're in a late night Spanish bar or a desert trailer
watching tv, mumbled voices, fingerpicked guitar. Piano surfaces
and a voice so deep and sad it makes Tindersticks look positively
jaunty. 'we thought the wind was howling for us' -millennium despair?
Not a party record that's for sure. The black notes of previous
efforts 'Diciembre 3 a.m.' and 'Asi duele un verano' are here
made to look grey -wiped out in a total eclipse of sadness. 'Our
times of disaster' mixes more angst with a soundtrack of carcrashes?
By now you'll guess this isn't an easy listening disc. Maybe one
of the lyricists had recently suffered a break up. I'm not sure
but the mood is bleak. Spanish tv fades in and out. Listening
to this disc is like dreaming your way through Madrid at 3.am
with your heart ripped out. It's their finest work to date and
invents a new euro-music. Half American despair, half chanson,
half cantautore blues. It sounds like the record The Walkabouts
were thinking about but never managed to pull off or the record
Tindersticks would have made if their hearts ran with Spanish
blood instead of pale ale. Black, very black. The genius pours
out on the first Spanish language track 'la Noche/The night'.
It's so dark it's scary. The mood is sustained, accordions slip
in and out, guitars are plucked, electronica buzzes and spits.
'Suburban empty movie theatre' gear-shifts from sadness to a crazy
waltz. It's the sound of suburban Spanish youth clutching at American
straws, the impossibility of climbing those white lights into
the American dream. Strings and guitar and a Spanish monologue
dissolves like a tracking shot into a crackling organ and 'sand
falling fast in a glass bell'. Premonitions of death? It builds
like Cave or Brel. If there's a finer record released in the European
theatre of song or is that territory this year it will have to
be miraculous. This is art of a high degree. Knowing, fractured,
sad and very very blue. Don't file it with pop music -put it alongside
Gainsbourg, Tarkovsky, Bunuel. It's ART. Great art. 'Each day
you exist you have more crowns to clean'. 'Should I be doing something
else, in these times' they say at the end? No you are doing more
than fine. 'Arde' translates as 'it burns' and indeed it does.
Hearts on fire.
Bucketfull of Brains #58 2001
(Spain) nois 1017 Available through Cargo(UK), Darla (USA) or from
JAD FAIR & DANIEL JOHNSTON
on Jad Fair's 50 Skidillion Watts Records back in 1989 as It's Spooky
in Europe/Daniel Johnston & Jad Fair in the U.S. and now re-released
by the kind folks at Jagjaguwar this CD contains not only the original
album but an added video. It is an astonishing film of Johnston
singing his own 'Don't Play Cards With The Devil' - a brilliant
song. The performance is riveting and at a time when much pseudo-gothic
melodrama is served up as Americana genuinely disquieting and passionate.
As for the 31 tracks on the disc well there's every shade of emotion
and genre on there and a good few covers including a brilliant take
of Phil Ochs / Chords Of Fame. There's also the quirky I met Rocky
Erickson or Frankenstein Versus The World and affecting hymnal of
Nothing Left. Overall it's the fantastic melodic invention of Johnston
that seems to shine through but both these artists collaborated
to create a classic. Standout tracks in the additions include the
rocking Come Back [shades of Beat Happening] and Get Yourself Together
which sounds like a Harry Smith out-take reprocessed by being boiled
in a teapot at Rocky Erickson's house before it turns into Row Your
Boat! Then to follow that you get an astonishing What The World
Needs Now…..which talks of Devil Worshippers then of the wars that
fill up the graveyards and how the world doesn't need atomic bombs.
The disc doesn't end with a bang but the Butthole Surfers' Sweet
Loafed - Satan, Satan, Satan……the God of Rock and Roll. Easily one
of the greatest and most disturbed silver platters you'll ever find
and for that video of Johnston alone worth the price of admission
to its spooky cinema where the Devil may be carrying the torch and
every heart is bleeding. Jad Fair's artwork decorates the cover
- more can be found at www.jadfair.com [recommended].
this disc comes complete with well designed packaging and a matching
professional website that informs us Mr. Everhardt is in the tradition
of Guthrie, Dylan, Townes Van Zandt and William Faulkner!!!!!UUUHHMMM.
How do the contents match up to that introduction? Well not that
well actually. The guitar picking is accomplished throughout and
there's a lot of guitar-picking happening here. The sound is very
New York 1962 replete with folk boom sounding songs with titles
like 'Travel down the railway line' and 'Susannah eyes of fire'.
It's not so much Van Zandt and Faulkner that come to mind ( anybody
claiming the narrative skills of Faulkner for their folk record
is riding for a fall) as Tom Rush, Dave van Ronk and Spider John
Koerner. In fact this is the perfect 'New Dylan' before Dylan came
along. Halfway through track three about that ol' railway line my
attention was wandering and never really got back on track. Polite
coffee house blues with political small 'p'. The insert to the cd
doesn't have the lyrics. A good move going by the ones on the website
as lines such as 'And do your trees grow high? They're holding up
the ceiling of the sky' didn't exactly convince me this was the
new Townes van Zandt. Quite honestly a bit of professionalism in
the presentation of a disc can go a long way but to what end if
the contents aren't that original? 'Billy Faulkner' is yup about
that ol' writer man so that's why he was mentioned in the blurb.
Times up young fella come back when you have something to say. Better
still play every Townes song in a row before making the next record.