Music Review: The Dudley Moore Trio, From Beyond The Fringe

Published on June 4th, 2013 in: Culture Shock, Current Faves, Music, Music Reviews, New Music Tuesday, Retrovirus, Reviews |

By Cait Brennan


Dud, we hardly knew ye.

To Americans of a certain age, Dudley Moore was that loveable, “cuddly” Englishman of a certain height who improbably got the girl in several huge blockbusters of the ’70s and ’80s—notably Foul Play, 10, and Arthur (for which he received a well-deserved Oscar nomination). Even his less-successful films kept him firmly in the pop-culture consciousness throughout the ’80s—Wholly Moses, Micki and Maude, Best Defense, the Preston Sturges remake Unfaithfully Yours, Arthur 2: On The Rocks, Santa Claus: The Movie, the delightfully crass advertising send-up Crazy People.

Hits or flops, there’s something to love in all those films, and more importantly in his absolutely magnificent work in films like Stanley Donen’s Bedazzled; Bryan Forbes’s The Wrong Box; 30 Is A Dangerous Age, Cynthia; The Bed Sitting-Room; and so many others. But many of his film fans are only vaguely aware of Moore’s career as a highly regarded jazz composer and pianist, whose albums and film scores are every bit the equal of his comedy talent.


Music Review: Johnny Marr, The Messenger

Published on April 2nd, 2013 in: Music, Music Reviews, New Music Tuesday, Reviews |

By Cait Brennan


“Hear me, the wonder of it,” Johnny Marr sings on “The Right Thing Right,” the opening track of his new solo album The Messenger. Marr essentially invented ’80s Britpop with The Smiths, a band whose hallmarks featured Marr’s blazing melodic runs and (oh god let’s just get it over with) jangling guitars, serving as the perfect counterpoint to those literate, mannered, melancholic lyrics from an obscure vocalist whose name time has sadly forgotten.

In the intervening years, as The Smiths’ influence has grown to legend, countless guitarists have reproduced that iconic sound with near-religious devotion. Everybody, it seems, but Marr himself, who often seemingly took pains to play like somebody, anybody other than that guy on The Smiths records. While Morrissey rose to new heights as a writ-large, Nicholas Ray CinemaScope version of himself, Marr left it all behind, blazing an exhaustive, exhausting trail through new sounds and new identities that would wear out Richard Kimble.


Music Review: Gene Clark, Here Tonight: The White Light Demos

Published on April 2nd, 2013 in: Current Faves, Music, Music Reviews, New Music Tuesday, Retrovirus, Reviews |

By Cait Brennan


The experience of being alive is joyous and unbearable. This crude matter we’re made of fights us every step of the way, but something deeper, something more, some beauty and energy blasting through from a source we can’t know animates us, fills us, drives us onward, and the friction, the vibration of energy that moves us, is what we call music. Where does it go, do you suppose, when we’re gone? Nobody knows, but you’ve gotta hope that when the radio breaks, still the signal shines on.

If rock and roll means anything worth caring about, it’s the need to express something real and beautiful and transcendent from the human soul. But that need can lead to soul-destroying results. There’s a fake thing called fame today, but it’s nothing like the sun that blistered down on the rock and roll bands of the 1960s. Know-nothing hambones like Mike Love get out in front and let their egos feast on the callow roar and toxic adulation of the crowd while sucking the lifeblood out of the delicate creative genius that brought them to the party, like a fat tick on a sick dog. The songwriter gets in the way? Kick ’em out of the band and keep the carnival on the road. Don’t mess with the formula, right?

Which brings us to the Byrds’ creative genius, Gene Clark. A down-to-earth, folk-influenced kid from the Midwest, he co-founded the band, and (excepting a few covers written by some stray named Robert Zimmerman) was the songwriting powerhouse behind the Byrds’ golden age. Just a few of the highlights he wrote or co-wrote: “I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better,” “She Don’t Care About Time,” “I’m Feelin’ Higher,” “If You’re Gone,” “Here Without You,” “The World Turns All Around Her,” “Set You Free This Time,” oh, and a little number called “Eight Miles High.”


Music Review: David Bowie, The Next Day

Published on March 12th, 2013 in: Current Faves, Music, Music Reviews, New Music Tuesday, Reviews |

By Cait Brennan


It takes a giant set of stones to deface, obliterate really, the cover to “Heroes”, the 1977 album that is often regarded as David Bowie’s masterpiece. You wouldn’t do it for a remix record, let alone a new album that heralds your return to music after a decade as far away from the music world as you can get, on this side of the dirt at least. You wouldn’t pay some guy a ton of money to just scratch out the album title and paper over the face with some words on a blank slate.

But then David Bowie has always been that blank slate. The Next Day equals “The Next Thing,” the tantalizing, elusive thing Bowie has restlessly, relentlessly pursued since the day he first imagined his pilfered name in lights. New sounds, new poses, new ideas, borrowed and digested and inhabited and discarded, with the artificial cool and sublimated panic of a man trying desperately to stay one step ahead of the law, sick inside with the feeling that any second, he’ll be exposed as a fraud, a con man, a cut-rate Tabarin in a rented clown suit that’s four days past due and damaged beyond hope of getting back the deposit. We mustn’t ever tell him that it’s all in his head, that he’s real and he’s good and that he’s saved us, the ones that he’s saved.

But now, no new pose, no fashion, no fame, just a blank slate, a screen on which to project your own version of the dream. Is this the end of The Prisoner then, where Bowie rips the monkey mask off the madman he’s chased, only to find his own true face underneath?

Oops, should have said “spoiler alert.”


Music Review: George Jones—The Complete United Artists Solo Singles

Published on February 12th, 2013 in: Current Faves, Music, Music Reviews, Retrovirus, Reviews |

By Cait Brennan


“Country music,” George Jones told music writer Holly George-Warren “is a religion to me.” Well, if country music is a religion, George Jones’s music is one of the bedrock gospels. From 1950s hillbilly hellion to elder statesman of the genre, Jones has always been one of the purest singers in country music. Jones is “just” a country singer the way Sinatra was “just” a saloon singer—both men mastered, then transcended their genres, making each song uniquely their own.

Some of Jones’s finest mid-’60s sides are collected on George Jones—The Complete United Artists Solo Singles, one of three essential country music compilations released on February 12 by those high llamas of music at Omnivore Recordings. No no-shows here; this is prime time Possum, showing the hall of fame singer on a diverse range of material penned by Jones and some of classic country’s greatest songwriters.


Music Review: Mary Gauthier, Live At Blue Rock

Published on February 7th, 2013 in: Current Faves, Feminism, LGBTQ, Music, Music Reviews, Reviews |

By Cait Brennan


There’s probably never been a more honest songwriter than Mary Gauthier. From her earliest days in music, taking up songwriting after becoming sober at 35, she’s created characters whose struggles—with adoption, addiction, sexuality, homelessness, rootlessness—have closely mirrored her own. The road can be rough, but Gauthier’s an expert in finding the spark of hope in the saddest of situations.

Over six studio albums, commencing with 1997’s Dixie Kitchen, Gauthier’s proven herself to be a storyteller of the first order. If the mood ever hits her, she’d be as great a novelist as she is a songwriter. Worlds rise and fall in her songs. Her characters reach grasping hands out of the cold darkness for one last shot at redemption. They grab it, sometimes. Sometimes it slips away.

Her songs have been covered by everybody from Blake Shelton to Boy George, and while you ponder that mental image, know that nobody’s done ’em better than Gauthier herself.

It took her a long time to record a live album, but the outstanding songs and powerful performances on Live At Blue Rock prove it was worth the wait. Recorded live at Blue Rock Artists Ranch in Austin, Live At Blue Rock presents 11 of her finest, eight of which were written or co-written by Gauthier.


Music Review: Townes Van Zandt, Sunshine Boy: The Unheard Studio Sessions & Demos, 1971- 1972

Published on February 6th, 2013 in: Current Faves |

By Cait Brennan


Townes Van Zandt burned through his short life like beads of water dancing on a hot frying pan, looking for a way out, struggling to fly, trying to take off for pretty much anywhere else. He occupied this earth for 52 years and for most of it he was in unbearable psychic pain. He self-medicated, but the treatment was worse than the disease. But from time to time, especially during the early-to-mid-1970s, he was able to transform a measure of that pain into songs of almost unparalleled beauty.

On New Year’s Day 1997, Townes slipped away, leaving us a handful of studio albums that have acquired near-legendary status. But some of those recordings are deeply flawed by poor production choices, and even the great ones have at times been hard to find. The idea of finding new Townes material after 40-plus years seemed impossible. But impossible is all in a day’s work for the good folks at Omnivore Recordings, who moved heaven and earth to bring us 28 lovingly curated tracks of never-before-heard Townes music, Sunshine Boy: The Unheard Studio Sessions & Demos 1971-72.


Music Review: Chris Stamey, Lovesick Blues

Published on February 5th, 2013 in: Current Faves, Music, Music Reviews, New Music Tuesday, Reviews |

By Cait Brennan


Just about any item on Chris Stamey‘s resume would get you your cult rock and roll bona fides. He played with Big Star’s Alex Chilton, and formed his own great (if short-lived) powerpop band Sneakers alongside Mitch Easter and Will Rigby. Stamey even founded his own indie record label, which released the one and only solo single by Big Star’s Chris Bell, the transcendent “I Am The Cosmos.” But he was just getting started.

Perhaps best known as a founding member of influential rockers the dB’s, Stamey cemented his place in music history early with that band’s first two landmark albums, 1981’s Stands For Decibels and 1982’s Repercussion. But despite the acclaim, Stamey stepped out for a solo career shortly before the band’s third album Like This, and has traveled a fiercely independent road ever since.

The past few years have found Stamey busier than ever. He’s produced records for artists as diverse as Yo La Tengo, Whiskeytown, Le Tigre, and Alejandro Escovedo, recorded duo albums with his former dB’s compatriot Peter Holsapple, and even served as the driving force behind the acclaimed Big Star tribute shows, fully-orchestrated live performances of Big Star’s Third/Sister Lovers.

In 2012, 30 years after leaving the band, Stamey and the dB’s reunited for an outstanding new album, Falling Off The Sky, a blazing rock record that sounded less like a reunion of old pals and more like the debut of a vital new band (review). And now, before the ink’s even dry on Falling Off The Sky‘s strong reviews, Stamey’s back with a complete about-face, a warm, intimate solo collection of new songs called Lovesick Blues.


Music Review: Rosie Flores, Working Girl’s Guitar

Published on January 22nd, 2013 in: Current Faves, Feminism, Music, Music Reviews, Reviews |

By Cait Brennan


Rosie Flores is one of a kind. Fiercely independent, passionate, and soulful, Flores is a top-tier guitar virtuoso whose always-interesting work bridges blues and country; rockabilly and surf; and Southern California cowpunk and Tex-Mex to create her own strikingly original sound.

In the mid-’80s she fronted a great full-on Hollywood all-girl cowpunk outfit called the Screamin’ Sirens, but as fun as it was, it barely hinted at what was ahead. In 1987 Warner/Reprise released her solo debut, Rosie Flores, a pitch-perfect set produced by Dwight Yoakam’s producer and guitarist Pete Anderson. It was a brilliant pairing, and the record received near-universal praise from critics.

But despite the label’s effort to angle Flores as the female Yoakam, she was impossible to pigeonhole, and the following year she hightailed it to Austin, where she formed a new band featuring fellow luminaries like Junior Brown on pedal steel. Austin and Flores were nigh made for each other, and 1995’s Rockabilly Filly cemented Flores’s place in the firmament with a mighty collection of tunes featuring giants like Wanda Jackson and Janis Martin (the “Female Elvis,” whose work Flores has championed on many occasions.)

Flores is one of the finest guitarists alive, with nitro-fueled guitar solos that evince an expressiveness and fire that few of her contemporaries can match. Her custom “SteeltopCaster” guitar rings out like lightning on her new album Working Girl’s Guitar, a blazing set of rockabilly, rock, and blues classics interspersed with some fine new originals.


Music Review: Shoes, 35 Years—The Definitive Shoes Collection 1977-2012

Published on January 15th, 2013 in: Current Faves, Music, Music Reviews, Retrovirus, Reviews |

By Cait Brennan


By any measure, 2012 was a banner year for the pioneering power pop rockers Shoes. For decades, the band has hewed its own indie path through pop music, with a strong DIY ethic that helped kick start the home-recording movement decades before Garageband made it easy. Back together in the studio for the first time in 17 years, brothers John and Jeff Murphy and their high school pal Gary Klebe joined with drummer John Richardson for Ignition, a spectacular new album of originals that reestablished Shoes as power-pop masters and made its way onto a number of critics’ year-end best-of lists (review). They were the subject of a new biography, Boys Don’t Lie: A History of Shoes, and their first four pre-Elektra albums—One In Versailles, Bazooka, Black Vinyl Shoes, and Pre-Tense (the Present Tense demos)—were issued on vinyl in gorgeous deluxe editions by the Numero Group.

Truly, it’s never been a better time to be a Shoes fan. But for those who haven’t yet joined the cult of Shoes, it might seem a little daunting to find a way in to a band whose widely acclaimed output stretches to at least 180 songs on 17 albums recorded over a 38-year period.

Real Gone Music has this problem sorted with its excellent new disc 35 Years—The Definitive Shoes Collection 1977-2012. From their ’77 breakthrough Black Vinyl Shoes all the way through Ignition, it’s a great survey of some of the finest moments of their career, and the perfect place to start a Shoes safari.