Sunday, February 13, 2011

Uprooted Album Revue: 2/13/2011

The Uprooted Album Revue highlights new releases, reissues, and my own latest discoveries. 

Low Anthem
Smart Flesh
(Nonesuch, 2/22)

The Low Anthem return with Smart Flesh, their second LP for Nonesuch following the band's terrific last outing, Oh My God Charlie Darwin. Granted, press releases that describe how the group recorded this one in an abandoned spaghetti factory, restored old instruments themselves, and recorded with mics 100-200 feet away, builds allure and makes for a great story. Clearly it all worked for them because you NEED to listen to this record.

Smart Flesh is outstanding. I've really enjoyed listening to the band's first two albums, and what I find myself really coming back to regarding Smart Flesh is the range on this record, and how rewarding the surprises are here. Case in point: "Ghost Woman Blues" begins the album with a haunting, stark lament, and then leads into the light bounce of "Apothecary Love". Then, out of nowhere, the intimacy and delicacy of these tunes get blown all apart with the barreling roar of  "Boeing 737". Wow. Breathtaking stuff.

Sonically, the album continues to surprise and runs across the spectrum throughout: from stark to bright, loud to quiet, minimal to dense, all while maintaining a depth of arrangements and attention to detail within each performance. I am continually impressed with The Low Anthem's expansive instrumentation and immense attention to craft here. The band's use of organs, horns, string instruments, and a wide assortment of others (even the jaw harp and musical saw!) creates a collective sound that never approaches novelty or showiness virtuosity, and consistently feels honest, earthy, and sincere in every aspect.

Smart Flesh easily becomes more and more gratifying upon each listen. It's more immediate than it's predecessors, but no less satisfying. It is an album that delivers a genuine sense of artistry, an effort that shoots for timelessness and nails it. That's three for three my friends...

Johnny Cash 
Bootleg Vol. 1: Personal File
Bootleg Vol. 2: From Memphis to Hollywood
(Sony Legacy, 2/22)

Shortly following Johnny Cash's death, an informal and private session of intimate recordings were discovered at The House of Cash studio, dating back to 1973.  Bootleg Vol. 1: Personal File, which was originally released back in 2006 as Personal File, collects 49 tracks, mostly dating from the acoustic session from 1973, but also includes some songs recorded between 1973-1982 as well.

Personal File, which pre-dates, and pairs remarkably well with the American Recordings-era albums Mr. Cash recorded with Rick Rubin, captures the man vibrantly singing songs, alone with his guitar. As much as I do treasure all of the Rubin-produced work that captured all of the depth and richness of an older Johnny Cash, this set is a spectacular collection that captures a younger, healthier, and truly inspired Johnny Cash in an incredibly intimate setting running through a stellar set of tunes.

Bootleg Vol 2: From Memphis to Hollywood turns the clock back even farther, to Mr. Cash's beginning. The collection plays like a long lost broadcast- so much so you'll forget you're listening to it digitally. But to give the impression that the set is simply a time-lost nostalgia trip would grossly undercut the value of this collection of gems.

The first CD kicks off with a radio announcement, followed by Mr. Cash introducing "Wide Open Road", and from there, the 2-CD set rolls through more grin-and-chuckle inducing radio spots and advertisements, but also delivers classic singles and rare intimate demo recordings. With 57 tracks overall, 16 of which have never been issued before, and 11 singles and outtakes released digitally here for the first time- do I really have to convince any well-versed Cash fan to pick this one up?

All I can really say is that Personal File and From Memphis to Hollywood make great additions to anyone's Johnny Cash library. Highly recommended for listeners who want to dig deeper, especially considering that there's lots here to discover.

Drive-By Truckers  
Go-Go Boots
(ATO, 2/15)

Back in 2007, the Drive-By Truckers took on the role as backing band, and cut an excellent record with Bettye LaVette called Scene of the Crime. As a fan of both DBT and Ms. LaVette, it is a modern soul album with some unlikely co-conspirators delivering the goods. It's one not to be missed. To listen to that album, and know that the Truckers are churning out the prowling grooves for Ms. LaVette to weave her distinctive and stirring vocals through, is not just a respectable artistic endeavor for the band, but an effortless triumph displaying a band at the height of it's powers.

I find Go-Go Boots as not so much of a departure, or declaration for a new sound for the Drive-By Truckers, as it is an album that draws from a variety of influences within southern music, and adds more classic sounds into the songwriting. Sure, an easy observation would be that the record is full of gospel-tinged and blues-laced country-rock tunes, but the tunes are more than that. Country, rock, soul, and gospel all merge with the "DBT sound" and together, it really ups the ante.

While the music spreads out loosely, and sprawls out over an hour or so, it really gives the band some space to play up it's range. Go-Go Boots is an impressive effort that keeps sounding better the more it's played. In fact, it's a little too-easy to keep replaying it because it does such a good of a job showcasing the band's strengths- especially it's restraint. The band really is thoughtful and deliberate here, carefully choosing when and where to ease it's power out within the set, while lyrically, delivering the type of stories and characters that have drawn listeners in repeatedly throughout band's discography.

Bonnie Prince Billy & The Cairo Gang
Island Brothers/ New Wonder
Limited Edition 10" Single
(Drag City, 2/22)

Bonnie Prince Billy & The Cairo Gang are releasing this 10" single featuring two previously unreleased songs. The single follows last year's The Wonder Show Of The World, and ALL proceeds will benefit the Lousville- based organization, EDGE OUTREACH, in an effort to bring water purification efforts to Haiti.

The two tunes follow in the path of The Wonder Show Of The World, and were actually performed by Bonnie Price Billy & The Cairo Gang during their last US tour in 2010.

Rob Mazurek who also played on Beware, brings a graceful solo to “Island Brothers”, which features some beautiful harmonies from Will Oldham (Bonnie Prince Billy), Emmett Kelly (Cairo Gang) and Angel Olson (who is Mr. Oldham's co-conspirator in Babblers). "New Wonder" continues on familiar ground and revisits the delicate arrangements and vocal textures that elevated The Wonder Show Of The World.

Music for change. I can dig it. 

Michael Chapman 
Trainsong: Guitar Compositions 1967-2010 
(Tompkins Square, 2/22)

Michael Chapman is a legendary guitar player who, sadly remains rather obscure here in the United States. He has shared record labels with Pink Floyd, Deep Purple, among many others, and the late John Peel called "Fully Quaified Survivor" (which is getting reissued by Light In The Attic Records) his favorite record of 1970. Chapman has released dozens of albums, but only a few in the States.

Michael Chapman toured extensively with the guitarist, Jack Rose (before his tragic and untimely death in 2009), and he gained a slightly higher profile last year from an interview with Thurston Moore for Fretboard Journal.

Trainsong: Guitar Compositions from 1967-2010 is a spectacular 2-CD set gathering up 26 re-recorded tunes that span across Mr. Chapman's career. It's a great introduction into the man's prolific and impressive body of work via some really stellar solo guitar renditions of his tunes. The album also includes song-by-song annotation and tunings by Chapman.

The set is one that I would say any guitar player and/ or any fan of great acoustic string music, cannot go wrong with picking up. I'd especially recommend it to fans of Jack Rose, John Fahey, Clarence White, and Leo Kottke.

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