Friday, June 3, 2011

Several Species Of Small Furry Thoughts - More Good Releases

The Blasters - Live 1986
The Blasters hold a special place in rock history. They managed to capture the spirit of a past era while never becoming a tribute band. Just as punk was exploding across the airwaves in the late 70’s and early 80’s this pompadoured group from Downey, California showed up playing revved up roots music that seemed to wink at Joe Turner and Hank Williams with one eye, while slaying audiences with the manic fury of a punk show. Led by battling brothers Dave and Phil Alvin, they burned bright for about a decade before Dave had to go off and make his own albums. Phil has kept the band going in one form or another (occasionally with Dave making appearances) but the glory days of this band were dependent on the two Alvins being on stage together and driving the music with the their love/hate relationship. This recording from California in early 1986 offers ample evidence of the original line-up’s power. This is not long before Dave would leave the band and piano player Gene Taylor had recently left leaving the original four - Dave and Phil on guitars and vocals, John Bazz on bass and Bill Bateman on drums to play their stripped down version of jumpin’ “American Music.” Containing many of the best songs from their three Warner Brothers records (The Blasters, Non-Fiction and Hard Line) as well as some great covers (Jr. Wells, Jr. Parker) the band is just on fire from start to finish. It is the combination of Dave Alvin’s great American-short-story-in-less-than-three-minutes lyrics with Phil’s I’m-the-workin’-man’s-workin’-man vocal delivery and onstage demeanor that put the songs across. When The Blasters are at their best, it feels like you are witnessing the prototypical four kids in a garage bashing out their dreams with heart and soul. They make a joyful, righteous sound and some of Dave’s songs - like “Rock and Roll Will Stand,” “Border Radio,” “Red Rose” or “American Music” - are up there with some of the best rock music has to offer.
Later this month (21st to be exact) Dave Alvin’s new album Eleven Eleven will be coming out. It is another strong set of songs about life on the road and the poignancy to be found in this uprooted American life. Each of Alvin’s records introduces his listeners to a new set of drifters, broken-hearted romantics and those to be found just in the shadows of the stage lights. Of particular interest to this review is the song “What’s Up With Your Brother?” a hilarious duet between Phil and Dave where they good-naturedly explore their own love/hate relationship and the public’s inability to not ask them about each other. It is one of the best-natured moments on any Alvin release and a huge, fun moment for all Blasters fans. Hopefully this will clear the way for them to work together again (probably NOT the conclusion Dave would want us to make).
Steve Wynn & The Miracle Three - Northern Aggression
About the same time as The Blasters, there was a movement in LA of neo-psychedelic bands with an appreciation for the clanging intensity of modern punk, but the guitar sounds of bands like Velvet Underground, Love and Quicksilver. Chief amongst them was The Dream Syndicate, who made a handful of albums that matched a post-beatnik, Dylan-informed lyrical sense with some mighty intense guitar rock. The main songwriter, singer and guitar player in the band was Steve Wynn who has continued for the past twenty or so years to make intelligent, well-crafted albums that have been largely ignored by the public (as were Dream Syndicate’s). His new album is as good as any he has made. Eleven songs about paranoia, weirdness and twisted beauty, it will answer the questions you have about where all the good bands have gone. They are quietly making masterpieces on hip, small labels (Yeproc) out of the eye of the mainstream press. Northern Aggression’s most surprising feature is the precision and youthful intensity of Wynn’s guitar attack. This guy is no spring chicken, but he is shredding throughout this album, leaving your jaw on the floor again and again. His tone and use of pedals and reverb shows what a seasoned pro he is, yet the songs all feel fresh. Wynn is an excellent writer and an even better guitar player who deserves the attention of a substance-deprived listening public.
Brian Eno - 1971-1977 The Man Who Fell To Earth DVD
This is an interesting documentary about possibly THE most interesting man in the history of modern music. Brian Eno is really without peer. Or if he does have a peer, that person is to be found in the ranks of John Cage, Harry Partch or Steve Reich. He didn’t invent a type of music as much as he invented a new way to think about music. Along the way he was himself responsible for some of the most sublimely beguiling albums of the rock era. This documentary concerns itself with the period between Eno’s time in Roxy Music and the creation of his first four solo albums. Of course, Eno has gone on to make many albums since, pioneering ambient music, and has produced some of the biggest hitmakers of the modern age (Bowie, U2, Talking Heads, Peter Gabriel and Coldplay to name a few), but the albums he made in the early to mid-70’s are a high water mark of sophisticated songcraft. Much of the most interesting stuff for me was hearing deep analysis of Here Come The Warm Jets, Another Green World, Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy and Before and After Science his four masterful solo albums from that era. There is not a huge amount of unseen footage to be found because Eno was not really a performing artist as much as a theoretical, studio creation. Thus, much of the movie is interviews with people who worked with him, over still photos. If he were not such an interesting subject this might be tedious but like Ken Burns’ documentary work, when the figure is as compelling as Brian Eno, one wants to drink in as much information as possible. The impression one is left with at the end of this documentary is that even more than the actual music he made, Brian Eno’s influence on other musicians may be his greatest legacy.

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