Monday, February 27, 2012

Amy Ray

Lung of Love

Daemon Records

These warm, mellow hard pop songs make this album fun, soulful, adult, and insightful, the product of a settled mind, confident and sure of what it wants to say. And like the title of one them, “Glow,” they do, as a celebration of lesbian love, of women, and sometimes the politics, like on “Little Revolution” where she mentions that she has a little Lynn Breedlove in her.

“From Haiti” is a tribute to the people of that country, post earthquake, their reliance in the face of ruin. She condemns the way countries like the US treat them and their country, paternalistic, like a “problem child,” when they are anything but. While this is not a new story, it is always worth mentioning, simply because all people are worthy of respect, and are not to be patronized.

Produced by Greg Griffith, with members of The Butchies (Melissa York and Kyla Wilson) on guitar and drums, Julie Wolf on keys, and Griffith also on guitar, the songs were recorded in analog, keys added afterward, making for a solid sound throughout, tight, crunchy, yet light and buoyant. Jim James and Brandi Carlile also appear as backing vocalists. It is another fine solo outing from Ray, who continues her output of fine music, both alone, and with the Indigo Girls. [] Andrea Weiss

Monday, February 20, 2012

Dot Hacker

s/t EP

ORG Records

Dot Hacker is an L.A. band, and this is their debut EP, to be followed by a full-length album named Inhibition later this year. The band includes Josh Klinghoffer, Clint Walsh, Eric Gardner and Jonathan Hischke. Klinghoffer is currently on tour with the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

The band sounds like smoothed out take on bands like the Cocteau Twins, and My Bloody Valentine. But the smoothness is appealing simply because it has ease and grace, and not too much polish. It is a welcome sound, somewhat futuristic, if only because they aren’t drowning themselves in 70’s retro. All in all, a good debut, and one that makes me want to hear more from them. []

Andrea Weiss

Perfume Genius

Put Your back N 2 It

Matador Records

Mike Hadreas’ absolutely wonderful new album (Perfume Genius) is tender, hopeful, out and proud. It’s dark in a fragile way, but always some light to cut the dark. Musically this is a bit like Rufus Wainwright, but if Wainwright had never been exposed to opera. It’s also a bit like the Innocence Mission, one of Hadreas’ influences, not so much for their sound, but for what he calls “timelessness.” I think what he means is that you put on an Innocence Mission album, and a hush comes over everything, everything gets quiet. Perfume Genius is the same way, with that same hush, that same quiet, which has a very fragile beauty to it.

Lyrically this is still about all the things Hadres has gone through, but expanded and more outward looking. By opening up his songs to let others in, he enlarges his world, and makes it better. It is more explicitly gay, and it is very nice to hear someone sing about being out with no pretences, just forward-looking honesty, which is also quite bracing. A triumph, musically and lyrically, and for someone who is out, a tonic for the soul. []

Andrea Weiss

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Mark Lanegan Band

Blues Funeral


Lanegan’s first album since 2004’s Bubblegum was well worth the wait. The band, Mark on vocals, multi-instrumentalist Alain Johannes of the late, great Eleven, and drummer Jack Irons are crackerjack, giving these 12 songs a dark, heavy, steeped-in-the-blues feel. Among various special guests, Greg Dulli of Twilight Singers adds wonderful color on “St. Louis Elegy,” Joshua Homme’s stormy guitar ripples through “Riot in my House,” and Shelley Brein’s pitch-perfect singing on “Quiver Syndrome." “Ode to Sad Disco” uses elements of Keli Hiodversson’s “Sad Disco” to enhance Mark’s song to a T.

Lanegan’s voice, now somewhat weathered, raspy, but still with his trademark deep rumble, sounds at home here. He’s lived these songs, their pain and loss, the feelings of someone who has been around the block more times than he can count, and is accustomed to suffering. It is a masterful performance. He never wavers, but loses himself so completely in the songs that they stick tight, and never let up in putting what he wants to say across.

His lyrics are poetry. “To the stars my love, to the sea, to the wheels my love, until they roll all over me,” from “The Gravediggers Song,” “into the blood we sink and burn, gray goes black,” from “Gray Goes Black,” and “straight through the eye of a needle at night,” from “Tiny Grain of Truth,” to use a few examples, convey many meanings. Does his love encompass so much, and then reduce to nothing? Burning until death sets in? Is the needle a light in the darkness? This is what I take from these lines. They will mean something different to everyone.

This album is a masterpiece. It is perfect, and a tour-de-force on every track, but with no one ever showing off, just lending their many talents to an album that is a welcome look into someone’s world, a dark, sad world, but also one of redemption and hope, of a stubborn sense of perseverance that somehow this will all pass if his characters all try their hardest.

Andrea Weiss

The Songs of Robert Wyatt and Antony & The Johnsons

Live From The Union Chapel, London

Diversions Vol 1.

Rough Trade

Taken from two sold out shows at Union Chapel in December 2010, The Unthanks, two sisters named Becky and Rachel Unthank, (their real name,) and their band, tackled the songs of Antony and the Johnsons, and Robert Wyatt, two excellent artists in their own right. The results are wonderful. By using only acoustic guitars, a snare drum, a violin, and a trumpet, letting the sisters voices shine. They get to the cores of the songs, and their emotions are felt even more than they were on the originals.

Antony’s music and lyrics, stripped of subtle camp and melodrama, and sung with ringing sadness by the Unthanks, make the pain of those who suffer unjustly just because they are transgendered, or struggle with AIDS, into universal truth. The truth of battling a hostile world that can’t and won’t understand them. It is a truth that needs to be heard, over and over. The sisters are straight allies in this fight, the more the better with interpretations this great and precise.

Robert Wyatt’s soft singing/lyrics and his partner Alfie’s lyrics also ring with truth of another sort, a very left wing one, of oppressed people fighting for their rights, set to ambient drones, reproduced here on acoustic instruments, the sisters quietly outraged singing make the songs shine, and throw light on some dark corners, such as civilians being bombed for no reason.

Overall, this album could loosely be taken as folk/prog, and very modern prog at that. And what a triumph this album is too. Totally live, with no overdubs, gives the feeling of being in the audience as this outstanding concert/album was being recorded. []

Andrea Weiss


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