Tuesday, May 29, 2012

I'd Love To Turn You On At the Movies #40 - Beauty and the Beast (1946, dir. Jean Cocteau)

     This 1946 film adaptation of the classic fairy tale by poet, director, painter Jean Cocteau is, in my opinion, a perfect movie. There is not a moment of this visually stunning film that is less than riveting. Not only is the story a simple and classic tale of love, greed, beauty and loyalty that any viewer can relate to, the film itself is an almost incomparable feast of movie magic containing countless beautiful and unforgettable images. Jean Cocteau does not really change the specifics of the familiar children’s tale, but within the telling of the story makes his personal ruminations on love and relationships manifest. Belle, played with youthful radiance by Josette Day is the scullery maid for her two older sisters. She seems to be fated to a life of lonely servitude. As her father leaves one day she asks him to bring her a rose. He finds one, but it is plucked from the garden of a half-man/half-beast who demands the father’s life in exchange for the rose. The Beast is willing to take possession of Belle instead, and thus begins the relationship of Beauty and The Beast. The particulars of the story are almost irrelevant, because the film is filled with such lyrical beauty and visual magic that it can be appreciated on its filmic merits alone. The fact that it is beautifully acted and told in a way that is both true to the childlike roots of the story and to the philosophical underpinnings of the director is just a bonus. One can easily be swept away by the surreal imagery and exceptional film work.

From the first scenes at The Beast’s magical castle we realize that the rules of the natural world no longer apply. The Beast walks upright like a man, yet he is part of the natural world, preying on weaker animals. He is also the keeper of profound magic. His castle is filled with disembodied arms that hold torches, statues that suddenly come alive and follow one with their eyes, magical mirrors, gloves that bring the gift of flight, tears that are shed as diamonds instead of salt water, and a mysterious pavilion watched over by the goddess Diana where The Beast keeps his treasure. Like Beauty, The Beast also toils in a world without love. He adores Beauty but she is repulsed by his animal qualities. As the movie progresses, we see Belle begin to realize the inner beauty of The Beast and she soon begins to fall in love with him. Things are complicated when her brother and erstwhile lover from her old home try to break into the pavilion and steal The Beast’s treasure. As I said, the particulars of the story are almost meaningless because one is so swept up by the sets, costumes and special effects. Filmed in black and white due to budget limitations, it turns out to be the greatest gift this film could get, as the palette of muted, shadowy tones lends the film a completely unique otherworldly quality it never could have achieved in color. Cocteau and his fellow filmmakers are fearless in their use of experimental techniques used to create a fantasy world where magic is real. No big-budget action franchise comes close to the mystery and beauty that Cocteau’s small film achieves.
As the story winds through betrayal and recognition and Belle ultimately chooses The Beast, thus freeing the dashing prince within, the viewer is actually left with mixed feelings about this happy ending. We see that the real story was indeed the acceptance of The Beast’s inner beauty and humanity that won her over, and that his turning into a handsome prince is almost a let down. Belle now understands that beauty is just a trick of the eye and that true love is born of character. The Beast was not only fascinating, he was internally beautiful, and by making him an acceptable member of society, some of the real beauty was lost, or obscured by societal convention. But ultimately none of that matters because Beauty and The Beast can be enjoyed on the most basic, sensual level. It is unspeakably lovely to look at, and no amount of analysis can change that. If the idea of a desert island movie really did exist, and I could only see one film again for the rest of my life - I could probably be endlessly engaged by this masterpiece. It is simply impossible to take your eyes off the screen.

- Paul Epstein

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Fables of the Reconstruction: Matt Valentine Interview

MV+EE’s Space Homestead is the best release so far this year. It’s got everything a psych freak like me needs and loves: cozy downhome melodies spun from acoustic guitar; transcendent vocal harmonies; asymmetrical rhythms; wah-wah; slide/pedal steel; long fuzzed-out solos; some scary feedback; 4D stereo; and a plethora of ghost and starship sounds swirling all around. This week, I caught up with Matt Valentine, the MV of MV+EE, for an email chat, and he confessed that they’re a jam band. We talked quite a bit about Jerry Garcia because, for reasons that are probably better left unexplained, I recently got in touch with him and offered to send him a huge box of bootleg cassettes -- Jerry Garcia Band or Grateful Dead, his choice. He went with the JGB, and during the winter and spring months, while he and Erika Elder (the EE) were putting the finishing touches on the new record, he had those cassettes in constant rotation on the car stereo. Naturally, I wanted to know where ol’ Jer fits in with the whole MV+EE scheme. (Note: Matt’s style of writing in mostly lower caps is preserved here to maintain the MV+EE aesthetic even in the realm of the verbal.)

Why'd you go with the JGB over the Dead?
well i've heard a lotta live dead, there is something for me to love in ALL of it -> the jerry stuff is more elusive and in some ways more solid. what i really dig is hearing him stretch out and his phrasing. i can relate to the more ergonomic rig in the JGB, more real-people vibe, and somewhat tangible to my set up.

Which ones were your favorites, and why?
there are many faves, i particularly dig where he is at in the early solo stages, when he really started to get busy "solo" ('72-'73), but the late '70s -> early '80s have so many amazing shows, and there was one from '92 that blew me away. one of my desert-island ones was 7/8/76. i also dig when they launch unexpectedly on "lonesome and a long way from home," for example, in the late show at the warner theatre in D.C. - 3/18/78.

Photo: Cat Stevens
I've read interviews where you claim Garcia as a guitarist you admire but that he doesn't really influence your own playing. Why?
imagine if i named our dog jorma instead of zuma! sure, garcia is a big influence, but i try to transmute it. if i went around saying jerry was my main insp, that's all folks would rap about. garcia's and lou reed's extended solos are two major signposts for me. and then there's robbie basho. i try not to be too myopic with my playing; i've always eschewed copying because i wanted to develop my own voice; it's a choice and there are sacrifices one makes by doing it that way. i try and recycle all the sweet spots to my ears from all the players i dig, so what went into the hopper as a cardboard cowboy might come out as a lonesome cowgirl, moonlight on vermont. nothing is really "new" in music. it's like speech. there are breakthroughs with little vowels, arcane words. i try my best to secede from the banal within a very rigid structure of western tonality.

we've been a "jam band" all along. we just never came out and said it that brazenly, you dig?  all of our records have exploratory sections and we've always embraced mixed modes and improvisations, even on the studio recordings. that's a massive garcia influence right there. he is also really measured and articulate even when to lesser ears it might seem random. same is true with our music. for example "cold rain" from our "mother of thousands" double LP has a line that sounds like a long rambling solo to undisciplined ears. it's actually a lengthy phrase that i've been playing the exact same way for 10+ years! and it's still a staple in the live show, i guess it isn't finished! it's become a springboard for all sorts of inspired jams. that same record had our "cover" of "death don't have no mercy" as well – a whole side long. erika has always really been into garcia’s choice of material. the dude has a great touch. chill...but really i'm just thankful that he gave so much music, that's probably the biggest jerry influence on me right there.

You’ve called the jams on Space Homestead "covert." What do you mean? 
let's just say all the tunes can have "vegas" arrangements live. so that's the deal with what inspired "space homestead"…it's a pleasure to play the material in concert as much as it was to craft and record.

i guess i mean a lotta things by saying "vegas"...but really i mean how we can vamp for a long time over the changes and explore before coming back in with the next vocal verse...

If you were planning a multi-course musical meal, with Space Homestead as the main course, what other records would you have on the menu?
we'd be servin' up that woods/amps for christ split, hissteria from purling hiss, robbie basho's twilight peaks, gunn-truscinski duo’s ocean parkway, J mascis's several shades of why, and the village of spaces’ alchemy and trust … man, then we'd let it rip. 

Monday, May 21, 2012

I'd Love To Turn You On - #57 - Gang of Four – Solid Gold (1981)

        How does a band follow up a debut that has been pretty much universally acclaimed as a masterpiece? The “sophomore jinx” is a cliché that dogs every band out there, even when their second album is as strong as their first (or stronger – c.f. Talking Heads’ More Songs About Buildings And Food or M.I.A.’s Kala) it seems that there are those who’d prefer not to see the advances that have been made, wishing instead for a retread of the first album. So when a band equals its debut, as Gang of Four has most assuredly done with Solid Gold, it’s a rare feat worth noting, and detractors be damned.

It’s true that the manic, political drive of Entertainment! has cooled a bit and been traded for slower tempos here, but the energy (especially the political energy and Marxist leanings that set them apart from their contemporaries) has not been dispersed, merely transformed into something that moves with the inevitability and irresistibility of tectonic plates. The first half opens with “Paralysed,” one of the band’s finest moments in their entire catalog. As the opening shot of the album, it’s an immediate signal that we’re in for something different here from Entertainment!, a slower, sparer approach. But dig into the song’s lyrics and you find the Marxist sloganeering of the debut turned into a deeper analysis, laying out how the protagonist follows the “pull up by the bootstraps” ideals of capitalism, moved by forces beyond his control through into joblessness and despair, speaking directly to the very real crisis of unemployment and striking labor throughout Britain in 1980. It’s a devastating and despairing critique where the band had previously offered up only skeletal phrases to sketch out an idea.  And then the tempos start to creep up. For the remainder of the first half, they work their way from the frozen stasis of “Paralysed” up to the frantic, jumpy, punk-funk tension that characterized Entertainment!, even ending the original LP side with a great track, “Outside the Trains Don’t Run On Time,” that first surfaced on a single and later on the “Yellow EP” released between the two albums, though here it’s given an intensity that’s lacking on the single version. Along the way they hit another of their all-time best, “If I Could Keep It For Myself” – another manic, jagged guitar number very much in the vein of the debut album and easily as good as anything on it.
The second half kicks off with another treatise on the problems of day to day existence in a capitalist society – “Cheeseburger” – which alternates the band’s lyrics with taped interludes before the side continues its journey to the outgroove, culminating in two songs – one again culled from the “Yellow EP” – that lay out in the most brutal terms the position of women in the present society – perceived merely as worker, as property, or in the worst case scenario, as slave. The despair and anger that color this album are no less present than on the first though they add dimension to it, flesh it out beyond the barked phrases and pared down music. Part of the secret, one must assume, is not just the varied tempos, but also the beefed up bass on display, showcasing with an almost dub-like foregrounding the stellar bass work of Dave Allen. Of course between singer-lyricist Jon King and guitarist Andy Gill, there are many touches that hearken back to the debut, while stoic, rock-solid drummer Hugo Burnham grounds every song, whether spare or agitated. The band followed their remarkable run to this point with another brilliant EP, “Another Day, Another Dollar” which premiered three excellent new songs and offered live versions of “Cheeseburger,” there attacked at a ferocious tempo and its samples yelled out manically by King to almost comic effect, and a take on “What We All Want” that yet again accentuates Allen’s bass work. After that, Allen took flight to join Shriekback and the band recruited bassist Sara Lee for their third album, Songs of the Free, a solid and enjoyable effort in the canon that featured their new wave club hit “I Love A Man In Uniform,” a great song that revisited their anti-militarism in a deviously pop-friendly guise. Then Burnham left the group and they moved on as a trio for the sorely mistitled Hard, inexplicably paired in this present version with the much more dazzling Solid Gold. Still, a bad pairing cannot diminish the brilliance of their second album, a record that time proves has earned its place right alongside Entertainment!

--- Patrick

Monday, May 14, 2012

I'd Love To Turn You On At the Movies #39 - Paprika (2006, dir. Satoshi Kon)

Before his untimely death in 2010 from cancer, Satoshi Kon was only the second name in Japanese animation, behind Hayao Miyazaki, who possessed a complete mastery of the genre and in telling original and complicated stories. Yet, unlike Miyazaki, Kon was an absolute artist in creating both stories and sophisticated animated images that were more for adults then they were for children. Also unlike Miyazaki, Kon spent most of his career unpopular in the United States but still leaving behind a small but masterful set of projects that showcased his growth and imagination. Paprika, an amazing science-fiction psychological thriller was his last film completed before his death and, ironically, the one that seemed to pull in all of the threads from his previous three films, Perfect Blue, Tokyo Godfathers, Millennium Actress and the stunning television series Paranoia Agent.
In the film we meet Paprika, a charming and clever young woman who is not who she seems. She guides Detective Konakawa through a bizarre, labyrinthine dreamscape and then emerges out of the dream as Dr. Chiba Atsuko. Dr. Atsuko is able, via a special device called the D.C. Mini, join patients in their dreams as Paprika. The project of Chiba’s mentors, she has developed a subconscious set of skills that allows her to portray Paprika in many forms and have complete control of whatever dream universe she finds herself in hacked into patient’s minds via the D.C. device. The device was developed for taking the next step in psychology and helping therapists find resolutions for intense traumas and actions that may be hidden in the minds of their patients. The work of the D.C. Mini has remained mostly secret while the doctors continue to experiment with its limits but when three of the prototype devices are stolen and some high level officials end up in sudden, catatonic states it is apparent that Chiba must join forces with her team and Detective Konakawa to find the thief in the dreams of these officials and bring back the D.C. Minis before the very fabric of dreams and reality is torn and both worlds collide into each other.
Aside from that thrilling plot the key to enjoying Paprika is to take in Satoshi Kon’s animation direction and bevy of eye candy that punctuates the film whenever the characters flip-flop between the worlds of reality and dreamscape. It’s as if Kon and his gifted animators at Madhouse Studios spent their whole lives studying the nuances of our dreams, the abruptness of reality and put it all epically on screen for you to see in this one project. Between vivid colors and surreal feelings during the film’s dream sequences, which cover 60% of the film, you may wonder why you’ve never wandered down Satoshi Kon’s path before.
It should be said that though this was Kon’s final film it is actually a gateway to moving through the rest of his small but perfect back catalogue of films and recognizing the brushstrokes of a master artist and storyteller who doesn’t want you to just use your imagination, he wants to create a whole new one for you too.
- Keith Garcia – Programming Manager – Denver Film Society

Fables of the Reconstruction: Krautrock and Its Descendants Pt. I

There’s a scene in Portlandia where a mom stands up at a PTA meeting in the library of a fancy pre-school and demands better music in the school’s record collection. The discussion gets heated, and the school principal admits that she doesn’t know what Krautrock is. The mom fills with rage and says, “I am getting very stressed out that the head of our school does not know about NEU! These are the people teaching our kids!” The skit hit close to home. I was a college professor before I’d heard of them. I somehow missed out on Krautrock completely, despite a lifelong love of freaky music.
My introduction to NEU! was their first album, NEU!, which I picked up with a whole bunch of other Krautrock classics. It’s a very wide-ranging genre—from the guitar-heavy darkness of Amon Duul to the quiet, icy space sounds of Edgar Froese and Cluster and Tangerine Dream to the computer weirdness of Kraftwerk to the drum-centered jams of Can and NEU!. I wanted to check it out because a lot of the new bands I’m into—Woods, Wet Hair, Herbcraft—are admitted Krautrock freaks. You can really hear the connection in NEU!’s self-titled debut. It came out in 1972 and it’s mostly instrumentals that center on simple but infectious grooves, driving beats that serve as a solid core for cosmic improvisation. As the numbers progress, the guitarists keep adding variations to a central theme, distorting it with space-age swells of feedback and distortion, adding extra beats here and there to quicken the pace, or subtracting to slow it down. It’s like a far-out geometric pattern, like that part at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey, where Dave the astronaut goes through the wormhole.
As I listened, I came to realize that I’d enjoyed this sound already. It’s obvious to me, for example, that Krautrock has had a strong influence on Phish and the way they approach psychedelic improvisation. It’s not sprawling improv like the Grateful Dead or Miles Davis of the late 60s and early 70s; it’s more contained, like a mandala or a kaleidoscope, but it suggests infinity just as ably as music that seems to spread out through space. And a couple of the songs sound a lot like numbers on recent Woods and Jovontaes records. First track on NEU!, “Hallogallo” has chicka-chocka rhythm guitar riff running through it that’s reminiscent of “Out of the Eye,” a long instrumental on Woods’ Sun and Shade, my favorite album from last year. And the last song on side one, “Weisseusee,” a wonderfully slow and spacy tune, is almost a dead ringer for a long track on Jovontaes’ debut LP, Things Are Different Here.
The Jovontaes’ record was my favorite sleeper release from last year. They’re a band of young skate freaks from Lexington, Kentucky, and they had previously only released a few sloppy sounding cassettes that offered no indication of what they had up their sleeves for their jump up to vinyl. The record is entirely instrumental and it’s very chill and smoky; I like to play it when my wife and I have another couple over and we open up a second bottle of wine and settle in for a long night of conversation and spacing out. It unfolds nicely in the background, but it’s not background music; though relatively quiet and slow, it’s got enough freaky sounds to keep it interesting and compelling for those moments when the conversation dies down and the mind yearns for something to focus on.
Woods’ latest release, a split LP with Amps for Christ, has a more wide-ranging sound, with strands of 60s pop and raga and noise woven through it, but their side closes with a long instrumental called “September Saturn” that’s got a real Krautrock feel. A simple four-beat bass line lays the foundation, and it stays steady throughout as threads of strange sounds are added to it, first some shaky tambourine and symbol, then a few layers of guitar, some fuzzed out, others bright and clear. All together, it forms a kind of aural environment, like some crazy jungle on a Star Trek planet, and it keeps getting stranger and more interesting the more sounds are added in. The Amps for Christ side is interesting, too, rooted more in the noise tradition, but it’s rarely abrasive or grating, and it has a lovely traditional-style song in the middle. But for me, the Woods side is the real reason for picking up this release. They just keep getting better and better, and the fact that this split was a little side project, that the songs here are ones that didn’t make it on the LP they’ll be releasing this fall, indicates to me that they gearing up for a big breakthrough release. And for the sake of our children, I hope that the Shooting Star pre-school on Portlandia picks up a copy for their library collection.

Monday, May 7, 2012

I'd Love To Turn You On #56 - Pentangle - Basket Of Light

I remember the first time I heard this album. My thought at that time was: “what the hell is this doing in the rock section?” I still find myself at a loss as to what genre of music Pentangle make, but I am still in love with the sounds of this album. Pentangle was five world-class musicians making beautiful music in keeping with the musical traditions they were schooled in themselves: traditional English folk, jazz and popular music. Guitarists and vocalists John Renbourn and Bert Jansch were already highly respected folk guitarists before Pentangle began, but by the time they released their third album Basket Of Light in 1969 they had managed to take their traditional musician’s musician reputation to a much wider audience thanks to touring, radio and vocalist Jacqui McShee’s unbelievably beautiful voice. So they were a success making non-commercial music yet they used the apparatus of rock music to become famous. I’m sure I heard about them on KFML radio or in the pages of Rolling Stone. No matter how it happened, I distinctly remember being stunned by the sophisticated musicianship and downright “adult” flavor of the album.
Beginning with the minor hit “Light Flight” the band sets the stage for a hypnotic excursion around the world of music. Folkish leanings are undercut by the complex interlocking guitar parts of Renbourn and Jansch, whose playing is always technically amazing, but maintains a light breezy touch lending all the songs a relaxed feel. The mood never goes south as they wend their way through various idioms, incorporating an avant-jazz bass break, traditional Christian hymns, medieval dirges, and a stunning take on the mysterious American R&B classic “Sally Go Round The Roses.” Originally recorded in 1963 by the unknown girl-group The Jaynetts, “Sally Go Round The Roses” is one of those magical songs that has a certain quality; indescribable, unforgettable, and unlike anything else. It is hard to imagine another group taking on such a singular achievement and succeeding, but Pentangle make the song their own, with Jacqui McShee’s soaring voice replacing the swampy mystery of the original with a clear beauty that lends a new and thrilling element to an already great song.
I love rock music. I tend to hold it above all other music. But in my heart of hearts I have always held out an understanding that there are other types of music that replace the visceral excitement and youthful energy of rock with studied virtuosity and advanced understanding of musical theory. Pentangle remarkably find an intersection between these two roads. They make easily listened to music that allows the listener to go as deep as they want. If you want to leave them in the background as a pretty accompaniment to your day, this album perfectly fits that bill. However if you want an audiophile experience with the highest level of musicianship imaginable Basket Of Light is a never-ending source of joy.

--- Paul Epstein

Fables of the Reconstruction: Another Green World

I first met the kid who would become my best friend in high school when we were on a chartered bus bound for a cross-country meet in Fort Morgan. His name was Dave Sherman, and he was a skinny little freshman with a big nose, just like me. We had our Walkmans out and our cassettes were spilled across the empty seats between us. He asked me what I had and I read off the names: The Clash, The Dickies, The Circle Jerks. Dave laughed when I said Circle Jerks, and when I played him “You Drive Me Ape, You Big Gorilla,” he laughed so hard he slid out of his seat. He liked all those arty longhaired groups I was rebelling against—Yes, Emerson Lake and Palmer, ELO. Back and forth we went naming names until we finally hit one in common, Brian Eno. We became best friends. All through the years when music defined us and we were constantly changing, through our teens and early twenties, from punks to Puppet Heads to Dead Heads to just plain freaks, and even down divergent paths, me into gangsta rap and grunge and him into Sufi dancing and post-rock, Eno and Another Green World remained a bond.
            I first came across the album when I was in junior high and on the hunt at the public library for anything that would transport me away from feathered-hair conformity of my little Midwestern hometown in the early eighties. I wanted new wave and punk, and there wasn’t any of that in the record bins at the public library, but the simple, cool, bright-colored design on the cover of this album that made me think it might be close. I took it home and listened to it and I definitely got my wish to be transported to somewhere else. Another Green World has a lot of synthesizer in it, and that appealed to my new wave side, but here it’s in service to songs that are less like songs than lush aural environments, some dense with tropical rhythms, others ethereal and vaporous. Quite a few are instrumentals that slowly rise from silence and fill the air with colorful, shapely sounds and drift back into silence. But there are also tunes you can sing along to, and they’re quite catchy, especially “St. Elmo’s Fire,” with its elating chorus that goes, “In the blue August moon,” and my instant favorite, “I’ll Come Running,” a bouncy, dreamy pop song that would fit perfectly in one of those movie scenes where two lovers run toward one another in a hazy meadow, but it’s funny because the song’s title is paired in the chorus with, “to tie your shoe.” It’s all very easy to listen to; no sharp edges or violent shifts. At the same time, it’s not sentimental or soft; there’s a sinisterness lurking around throughout, a barely perceptible discordant thread that made the record acceptable even when I was a close-minded hardcore punk (after all, even thrashers need some chill music from time to time).
            I never owned Another Green World on vinyl. Through high school and most of my college years I carried the cassette I’d made of the copy I found at the library. But somewhere along the way, probably during one of my many moves in my 20s, I lost it. Then right after I graduated and I was struggling to find a decent job, I got a call from a friend who said that Dave had died of a drug overdose. Dave and I had drifted apart; I hadn’t talked to him for the better part of year. At the funeral, his mom remembered me as his best friend, even though we really weren’t any more, and she asked me if I would meet her at his apartment to go through his things. I wound up taking a lot of stuff – a food processor, a lamp, a rug, things like that – as a favor to her because it was obvious that she couldn’t bear to throw any of it away. But I didn’t go there for any of that. I wanted an artifact to remember him by. The first place I looked was his music collection. There wasn’t much there that I was interested in. He’d taken a liking to cosmic experimental stuff that bordered on new age. But there among all the crap I didn’t like was a copy of Another Green World, on CD, with a cracked case. Full circle, just like the day we met.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Several Species of Small Furry Thoughts

George Harrison – Early Takes Volume 1
I loved the Martin Scorcese PBS special Living In The Material World and I assumed this was going to be kind of a soundtrack to the movie with hits, a couple of rarities, maybe some annoying snippets of talking from the movie. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Early Takes Volume 1 is an enormously important piece of the George Harrison puzzle. With years and reflection time has proven George to be as important a Beatle as John and Paul with his understated and underestimated guitar work and more than few of the Beatles’ greatest songs bearing his name as the author. Early Takes collects songs from throughout his post-Beatles career (frustratingly devoid of meaningful liner notes, so pinpointing who is playing and when is almost impossible) and presents them as stripped down demo versions. These are not throwaways however. Each song captures a warm intimate moment with Harrison giving his all to the performance. His vocals are passionate and lend added depth to classic songs like “Run of the Mill,” I’d Have You Anytime” or “Behind That Locked Door” from his epic All Things Must Pass album. Removed from the context of Phil Spector’s overbearing production, these songs share a poetic fluidity and direct emotional resonance with Dylan’s work of the period. Speaking of the bard, there is a solo take of “Mama You Been On My Mind” which George co-wrote with Dylan. It is followed by a touching version of The Everly Brothers’ weeper “Let it Be Me,” which clearly had a special place in George’s heart. I found this collection to be completely wonderful to listen to and an essential part of my understanding of the quiet Beatle. The Volume 1 part gives me great hope that there might be more of the same.
O’Brien Party Of 7 – Reincarnation: The Songs Of Roger Miller
What O’Brien’s you ask? Why our very own O’Briens. Musical siblings Tim and Mollie O’Brien bring along various husbands and children and take on one of America’s greatest songwriters, Roger Miller. When I looked over the songs the first thing I noticed was, with the exception of “King Of The Road,” these were not Roger Miller’s most famous songs. That’s good, because Miller wrote so many fantastic songs, people need to be exposed to more than “Chug-a-lug” and  “Dang Me.” Miller’s greatest talent was never being predictable. He never wrote a line that went the way you expected it to go yet he managed to put his finger on as many universal truths as just about any popular songwriter in American history. He was funny and poignant, and often at the same time. The various O’Briens bring the familial warmth and collective talent that the material deserves. Mollie has one of the clearest and most naturally appealing voices in music and Tim has a tremendous ability to make every song his own. His melodic mandolin playing and spot-on arranging abilities never fail. He has done for Roger Miller what he did for Dylan on his Red On Blonde tribute record. Breathing new life into historically important material is a daunting and difficult task, and doing it with such obvious joie de vivre an even taller order, but Colorado’s own O’Briens pull it off beautifully.
Janet Feder – Songs With Words
It’s not a surprise that Janet Feder’s musicianship is stunning - a completely original amalgam of traditional technique and avant-leaning accents. She can be favorably compared to Derek Bailey or John Fahey. It isn’t a surprise that her album Songs With Words is an audiophile’s dream: it is recorded in surround, using the Sonoma Super Audio system. Her albums always sound good, and she is a perfectionist in the live setting as well. It is not a surprise that Songs With Words is a musically powerful work of art; Janet Feder is nothing if not thoughtful and receptive. The surprise comes in her beautifully evocative voice, which is debuted on her new album.  Janet usually inhabits the rarified world of instrumental guitar geniuses with her contemplative, classically informed compositions, but on Songs With Words, she ventures into the vocal realm to great effect. Most startling is her rendition of Dylan’s “Blowing In The Wind” which she takes in new musical directions while keeping the emotional destination intact. What a challenge! Take one of the most recognized and lionized songs in modern music and turn it on its ear, making it your own - a tall order that Ms. Feder pulls off with relaxed aplomb.
Janet’s guitar playing remains a wonder. Her prepared, percussive style is the perfect blend of searching for and then finding home. She explores the outer reaches of sonic possibility yet never loses the thread of melody and beauty. It is so rare to find an artist who achieves this level of technical brilliance on her instrument and can still bring you to your knees with the emotional impact of her performing abilities. Songs With Words does just that: it lifts the mind and then holds the heart in that elevated space.

 - by Paul Epstein

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

I'd Love To Turn You On - At the Movies #38 - Desperate Teenage Lovedolls (1984, dir. David Markey)

The first thing you need to know about Desperate Teenage Lovedolls is that it’s a really bad movie. Horrible. The acting sucks. The plot is ridiculous. It was shot on a sound super 8 camera with the microphone attached to it, so you can hear the motor whir throughout every scene. But it’s a good bad, definitely in the “so bad it’s freakin great” zone. I’ve watched it more times than I care to admit, going all the way back to the early nineties when I found it in a video store on Haight St. Directed by Dave Markey, who would go on to make the documentary 1991: The Year Punk Broke, it’s the story of Kitty, Bunny and Patch, three rocking chicks who put together a band after Patch escapes from the nut house. One day they’re playing their guitars and singing by the ocean when a sleazy record producer hears them and promises boundless fame and riches. But the path to success is not a smooth one. They’ve first got to get past their archrivals, the knife-wielding She Devils, in a fight on the beach at sunset to the accompaniment of the jamming part of “Stairway to Heaven.” The scene is so righteously raw and cheesed up, it made me love that song like I never had before.
Be forewarned: Desperate Teenage Lovedolls is not for innocent eyes. There’s a shooting up scene where you can see the needle sinking into one of the Lovedolls’ veins, and a rape scene that always pushes me right to the edge of my comfort zone, especially when I’m watching it with a woman whose never seen (which for some reason has always been the case). But the film’s awfulness is so campy it’s irresistible. And the soundtrack kicks ass. The project was spearheaded by the members of Redd Kross, who wrote and played the Lovedolls’ “big hit” and sing the theme song. There are also numbers by Black Flag, White Flag, and the Bags. I had a copy of it in high school and I played it all the time in the mid-to-late eighties. It’s a nice blend of loud and scuzzy punk chords with pop, heavy metal and a pinch of psychedelia. The music and the movie nicely capture that moment in time, when punk rockers were starting to master their instruments and began exploring actual music as opposed to stuck-in-one-gear hardcore thrash. The guys in Redd Kross chose the 70s as their palette, and ironically this put them well ahead of their time, because the retro fad of the late 80s was the 60s, and the 70s wouldn’t really be “in” until the 90s.  
One mark of this film’s greatness is its sequel. Lovedolls Superstar is similarly low-budget and bad, but it’s nowhere near as charming as the original. Yet it stars a veritable who’s who of the L.A. underground scene at the dawn of the 90s. Which proves that the first one was such a surprise runaway success that everybody wanted to be part of round two.
- Joe Miller