CD Reviews Music & Spoken Word
DAVID CROSBY & GRAHAM NASH
MCA / Universal (reissue)
As if “Another Stoney Evening” and the recentC.S.N.Y. tour weren’t proof enough, here comes another reminder that David Crosby and Graham Nash are formidable performers in their own right.
Originally released in 1977, this reissue of “Crosby-Nash Live” captures the duo during some veryhot nights. They were accompanied by their band known as the Mighty Jitters. The Jitters featured superb musicianship from players who’ve graced countless albums during the past three decades.
Danny Kortchmar and David Lindley burn on guitars, while Russ Kunkel, Tim Drummond and Craig Doerge provide flawless support on drums, bass, and keyboards. Lindley, a master of all things stringed, also adds colorful flourishes on violin.
While Crosby and Nash are in fine form, there is a rawness to their vocals that adds to the intensity of the performances. The set neatly illustrates their ability to combine the political and the personal.
Crosby waxes philosophically on the pretty “Page 43”. Life goes by much too quickly, so we should drink it in, and revel in it. Nash connects with a trio of songs that rock with an intensity that brings to mind Neil Young. “Fieldworker” is a stinging indictment of the exploitation of farm workers. Graham went to the fields, and created a piece that captures their desperation, “Came across your border/just to work for you/give you all I got to give/what more can I do?” “Mama Lion” conveys a longing for spiritual relief: “There’s a hole in my destiny/and I’m out on the brink.” Like the previous tunes, “Immigration Man” is highlighted by Lindley’s piercing slide guitar. Considering the ongoing debates, the song’s subject is more timely than ever. Nash delivers a passionate plea for tolerance and acceptance.
The dreamscape of Crosby’s “Lee Shore” features an artful interplay of rhythm and melody. The idyll is tempered by restlessness, “Women are calling me to hear my tale/…perhaps I’ll see you/the next quiet place I furl my sail.” The set concludes with a stunning version of “Deja Vu”.
David and Graham have made their mark more than once. Their talents are considerable. Unconvinced? Buy this, then you’ll know.
Late For the Future
This is the third offering from the New Orleans funksters Galactic and they are more forceful in their love of grove than ever. Starting off the disc with a new arrangement of “Black Eyed Pea”, a band standard, and ending with the understated “Action Speaks Louder Than Words” the constant drive of bass and drums coupled with strong guitar accents and the rich, gritty sound of Theryl “Houseman” de Clouet’s vocals make this CD one psychedelic trip through funkytown. However, Galactic is not just a funk jazz band. Their style harkens back to that excellent time in pop rock when bands like Sly and the Family Stone and War were breaking the charts. Even the lyrics seem to come from a time before music became about misogyny and riots. Galactic is, indeed, late for the future, but as someone once said, “The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.”
The disc is produced, for people who notice these things, by Nick Sansano who has also worked with Sonic Youth and the Manic Street Preachers and he seems to have given Galactic a more open and playful sound on this production. A track of special note is “Vilified” which teams Houseman along with singer Theresa Andersson which yields some great duet work and their voices play off of each other like vodka and vermouth. Full of fabulous horn sections, strong guitar riffs and some true jazz experimentation, LATE FOR THE FUTURE is a good choice for any and of funk looking to expand their minds and their disc collection.
Inspite of Ourselves
THE ROBERT CRAY BAND
If you wallow on the polluted shores of the latest blatant, soulless, pop spunk, if you think that Tiffany was the be all and end all of modern culture. If you genuflect to the course gods screaming their penis size on the stages of endless KROQ Wennie Roasts. If you dance the Macarena, then probably these albums are not for you.
There is a small, mostly unacknowledged, underground, collective of folks surviving under the crushing wheels of the conglomerate music industry. Underrated heroes like Aimee Mann, Todd Rundgren and Jude may not be selling out The Pond, may not be household nmaes, may not be as readily bankable as, say Sugar Ray or Kid Rock, but they are surviving and, perhaps in the end, they will be remembered and praised for their integrity while mechanical, contrivances like the Backstreet Boys won’t even garner a footnote.
John Prine and Robert Cray are heroes. Though each of them chooses a different musical path, both are true to their convictions, their craft, and most importantly, the music.
John Prine is country. Listening to Prine youcan easily imagine where these songs originated. You can see the curved mirror behind the bar, the rows or colored glass bottles, the bar-keep with his dingy apron and bushy eyebrows, the sassy saloon girl at the edge or the stage. You can look past the seinging doors and see the vast uncharted land, the mountains, the dusty main street of the clapboard small town, the steepled chrch with it’s gabled eyes and gospeled tongue – the whitest and cleanist building in sight. (Maybe this wasn’t how it really was, but we all have different visions of history.)
Part of the charm of John Prine is that he, as a singer, is not note perfect. He has a flawed, cracked voice tha tadds to the sincerity of his songs. On IN SPITE OF OURSELVES he has superstar help from the likes of Emmylou Harris, Lucinda Williams and Trisha Yearwood (almost all of the songs are duets.) These are short songs, laced with humor, “No, we’re not the jet set…we’re the old Chevrolet set…” and bushels of heart. this collection was something of a labor of love, as Prine notes: :The songs here represent a small portion of my favorite country songs. I made a list of my favorite girl singers and the first nine I called said ‘yes’. I nearly fell over.”
Like Prine, Robert Cray has been performing for years, consistently putting out topnotch material. Unlike Prine, Cray’s work centers on the blues. The Robert Cray Band was initially formed in 1974 playing clubs and then The San Francisco Blues Festival in 1977. Hwever, CRay’s recording career didn’t actually start till 1980 with his dbut album WHO’S BEEN TALKIN’. HEAVY PICKS is retrospective that includes the Band’s juciest licks. sometimes the lyrics are a little simplistic – “…forecast calls for pain…” – but the sizzling attitude of songs like “Smoking Gun”, “Too Many Cooks”, “Consequences”, and “I Shiver” make this a serious must for collectors of the blues.
On a side note, Cray’s band is powerfully assisted by three red-hot rhythm groups: The Memphis Horns, Midtown Memphis Rhythm Section and The Miami Horns. They all help Cray seamlessly create an atmosphere of subtle menace.
HEAVY PICKS and IN SPITE OF OURSELVES – two excellent albums, two indispensable artists.
The Very Best of Cat Stevens
UTV Records (Universal Music)
Like many British music talents who emerged in the sixties (Lennon, McCartney, Bowie, the odd Stone), Cat Stevens (né Steven Demetre Georgiou) was an art student from a working class family. Unlike the Beatles, Bowie, and the Stones, Stevens wasn’t a rocker, but a folk singer whose tunes leaned to the gentle, the mystical, the quietly and personally spiritual. His reedy tenor was one of the kinder, more reassuring voices among mellow singer-songwriters of the ’70s: less pop-inflected than fellow seekers Seals and Crofts (both Bahais), less boyishly earnest than John Denver finding God in the sunshine and mountains, less haunted than James Taylor, certainly not as Canadian as Gordon Lightfoot.
The 20 cuts from Very Best of Cat Stevens span from his first 1967 hit, the up tempo, heavily orchestrated “Matthew & Son” (which sounds a cross between British TV series theme and something the Hollies would have tossed off), to 1978’s “Just Another Night,” (which sounds exactly like what it is, a final obligation to his record company, a full year after he had already converted to Islam; you can hear how he had already moved on from commercial music in his heart). Most of the major hits (the gospel-inflected “Peace Train,” the playful “Moonshadow,” “Oh Very Young,” and “Where Do The Children Play?”) evince Stevens’ spiritual leanings and affection for childhood, but the work remains always expressive, never preachy or precious, and never is the message delivered at the expense of good songwriting and good performance.
There is also the English boy’s love for early American rock and roll, given a few Buddy Hollyish licks in “I’ve Got A Thing About Seeing My Grandson Grow Old” and a very successful 1975 cover of Sam Cooke’s “Another Saturday Night.” While “Morning Has Broken” is not one of Stevens’ own compositions (it’s actually a traditional hymn), it’s certainly his own arrangement and still absolutely gorgeous. The piano passages still catch me right in the breastbone.
My favorite Cat Stevens song is 1970’s “Wild World,” that bittersweet farewell to a girlfriend leaving him for a worldier life. Hearing him sing it now reveals a quality of anxiety toward the secular world that presages his withdrawal from fame and fortune to devoted service to Islam seven years later. It’s as if he is the one withdrawing from us, and it makes me miss him terribly.
I hope Salman Rushdie can one day forgive Cat Stevens (known these days as Yusuf Islam) for calling for his death in 1989 during the “Satanic Verses” controversy. The superb liner notes to this collection do not mention this unfortunate episode, but they do make note of some of the singer’s considerable good works: that he established a Muslim relief fund during the African famine in 1984; that he and a delegation of British Muslims brought four hostages out of Iraq in 1990; that he arranged government assistance for underfunded Muslim schools in England; that he donates more than half of his royalty money to charity; and that he spoke out and recorded against the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia. I was never keen on the idea of burning Cat Stevens’ albums in response to the Rushdie fracas, and with this retrospective collection of his work, I am quite keen on the idea of encouraging listeners to reacquaint themselves with his great body of songwriting.
Happy to Be Here
Oh Boy Records
From the first licks of the opening song HAPPY TO BE HERE, it is clear that Todd Snyder is a traditionalist, and that is a good thing. Seeped in his rich country laden voice, Sniders lyrics sing about timeless emotions in modern setting set to hard core country music. Sometimes there’s a little funk, reminiscent of Chris Isaac at his most cynical. Like in “Forty Five Miles” as he sings “They say life goes in stages like seasons / I say something about all of them sucks / It’s hard to be hot as it is to be cold / You’re either out of control or you’re stuck….”
The traditional core of the music is just a frame or Sniders lyrics, soft and playful like a child with a bubble wand that occasionally gets soap in your eye. Resigned humor and acceptance in songs like “DB Cooper”, “But he told me the hardest part wasn’t really jumping out of the plane / It was spending the night watching those lights / Shine through the pouring rain.” And “Just in Case” about the need for a prenup even though “You oughta know by now this love of mine is real…but just in case…this morning I went by my lawyers place.” are at home beside melancholy songs like, “Missing You”, “I feel like missing you today / I ain’t letting nobody stand in my way / I gonna pull down these shades / and play some old songs.” For fans of the country and roots rock genre, that has managed to survive on small labels and in cozy clubs around the world, Todd Snider is another artist to add to your list of must haves, (when you are at the record store), and must sees, (when ever the bus can make it to your town.) This is definitely and artist to support.
Louise Post has the kind of voice and physical presence that make you want to listen and watch even when the sound and the fury is not at its finest. That being said, RESOLVER, the new CD from Veruca Salt is pretty interesting and head bangable in a Bangles meets Hole sort of way. After Nina Gordon left the band in’98, their fate was up in the air, but Post has been eating red meat again (according to the liner notes anyway) and listening to Soundgarden and Rage. Now she has managed what few remaining band mates can do, (even if your voice was the identifiable sound of the band), she has managed to put together a line up and write enough good songs to keep Veruca Salt a viable force in pop rock. Top off Post’s “can do” spirit and action with producer Brian Liesegang (Nine Inch Nails) and you have a grittier Veruca Salt with a lot of potential to be an amazing Veruca Salt. (I know it’s hard to imagine anything grittier than AMERICAN THIGHS, but it’s true.)
Guitar driven music punctuated by Post’s little girl shooting-whisky-voice belting out lyrics about sex, fame and fear gives the disc a pop meets grunge feel that is pretty fun. My one complaint is that by the end of the disc the lyrics and Louise both seem to be trying too hard to put forward a bad girl image. What’s interesting in the first five songs is not as riveting by the last five. But when all is said and done Post had something to prove after the break up of Veruca Salt and she has done it. I am looking forward to the next VS offering in the hopes that having made her point that she is a big girl, Post will start acting like one.