Monday, November 21, 2005

Listening To ...

The Deadstring Brothers – Starving Winter Report

Imagine Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and Gram Parsons in their primes, transplanted to Detroit, laid off from the Ford plant, pissed off and ready to pound longnecks (if not rednecks) at the local saloon, and you’ll have some idea of the emotional weight and sonic power of Starving Winter Report. The Replacements reinvented the Stones in the 1980s, and countless alt-country bands have paid homage at the shrine of St. Gram, but no one has combined The Stones’ bluster and energy and Gram’s cracked-vocal heartache quite as well as The Deadstring Brothers. Detroit native and lead singer/songwriter Kurt Marschke has mastered Jagger’s bluesy swagger on most of these tracks, and does a credible mid-sixties Dylan howl on “Talkin’ Born Blues.” The pedal steel sobs front and center, and the guitars absolutely rip throughout. It’s a short report, but give the band points for economy and brevity. There is no best song here; the whole album is great. It’s loud, loose, ragged, and not far removed from a stomping, beer-swilling masterpiece.

Kate and Anna McGarrigle – The McGarrigle Christmas Hour

Almost the whole dysfunctional Wainwright family -- aunt Anna, mama Kate, siblings Rufus and Martha, but minus papa Loudon (of course) -- shows up on this idiosyncratic Yuletide recording. Kate and Anna still harmonize beautifully after all these years, particularly on the traditional English and French carols that are frontloaded on this set. But things get seriously dark midway through, with the sisters’ fine cover of Jackson Browne’s “Rebel Jesus” (“So I bid you pleasure/And I bid you cheer/From a heathen and a pagan/On the side of the rebel Jesus”), Martha’s despairing “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year,” Rufus’s mournful Broadway croon on “Spotlight on Christmas,” and the spoken-word “Counting Stars,” which recounts the end of a love affair set amidst holiday gaiety. Emmylou Harris and Beth Orton sit in as family guests, add some fine vocals, and help lift the gloom. Fittingly, longtime McGarrigle collaborator Chaim Tannenbaum concludes the set with Elvis’ “Blue Christmas.” Happy holidays, and hide the knives and razor blades.

John Francis – Strong Wine and Spirits

Philadelphia singer/songwriter John Francis sounds like the reincarnation of Jeff Buckley here, but his soaring tenor cannot hide the malaise at the heart of his music. The songs on this debut album are transparently beautiful, and you’ll marvel at that sublime upper register. But the lyrics tell a different story. “Johnny Cash is Dead” is both a funeral dirge and a promise of hope, while finely realized portraits of urban decay and disconnected lives such as “Mercy for Cities” and “Love in the Fallout Shelter” are disquieting in their intensity and sadness. It’s choirboy despair seasoned with wisdom, poetic vision, and a dash of hope and mercy; music from a young Christian who lives in a broken world, and won’t pretend otherwise. We need more like him. The atmospheric production, a la Daniel Lanois, suits these unsettling songs perfectly.

The Gibson Brothers – Red Letter Day

There is something magical about brotherly bluegrass harmonies. And while Eric and Leigh Gibson don’t quite hit the heights of Ira and Charlie Louvin or Ralph and Carter Stanley, they make a strong case for sibling revelry. These guys sound like they’re having a great time singing together. Red Letter Day mixes well-written originals with bluegrass classics and unlikely covers from wide-ranging sources. It’s mostly straightahead picking and singing in the tradition of Red Allen and Jimmy Martin, but kudos are in order for the adventurous takes on Ray Charles’ early soul standout “I Got a Woman” and The Rolling Stones’ rollicking “I Used to Love Her (But It’s All Over Now)”. The harmonies, as always with a Gibson Brothers album, are the real reason to return. Along with Tim O’Brien’s and Nickel Creek’s new disks, this is as exemplary as bluegrass music has sounded in 2005.


Andy Whitman said...

This is how desperate I have become: I comment on my own postings.

Sometimes I wonder why I bother. I have no idea if anyone reads these things. I am currently experiencing Blog Comment Envy. I have friends, good people, and no criticism intended, who post about their toddler's potty training, and 47 people chime in and comment about potty training.

My kids used to poop in their pants. Really. But they grew out of it. You can comment on that if you want.

Ah, I am bitter and cynical. I should probably stop now.

But I won't. I hear Jeff talked about thanksgiving on Sunday. I missed it because I was downstairs taking care of the toddlers, some of whom are potty trained and some of whom are not. I probably could have benefited from his sermon. But I really was thankful for those kids, even without knowing the theme of the sermon. I would like to be thankful for the fact that no one comments about anything I write, that sometimes I share my heart in print and it feels like the sharing goes into a black hole. I'm not there yet, but I'd like to get there. So maybe this is a test.

If anyone ever reads this, no, you don't need to respond to this. It might be better if you didn't, in fact.

Karen said...

i'm sorry but i have to respond to your comment. it was funny, even if you didn't mean for it to be. :D

the thing about "what i'm listening to" posts...i just don't have a lot to say about them. i have found, however, that those are the posts that guys tend to actually comment about on my blog. so who knows.
even if i don't comment, i check your blog everyday and always read when you put up something new.

anyways, it's not like you always comment on mine. which is okay. most of the c.v. bloggers don't comment on mine. or atleast, those from blogspot. so...i don't know what to tell you. get a live journal? :D

as for people talking about potty training... if you'll notice it's usually moms that talk about that. but in general parents of young kids can relate and always want to talk about how their little ones learned this or that. i'm sure that's a part of it.

i think you're great. :)

Anonymous said...

Andy, as Karen said, I look for new posts everyday, and look forward to them. I discovered your blog a month or so ago, and was delighted to find it. Some of your posts nearly moved me to tears, especially the one about Bill.

Know that you do have readers, even if we don't post. Heck, I belong to several listservs and sometimes go for months without responding to posts.

And I would never post about potty training.

Karen said...

mike, i promise to make enough posts about potty training to cover us both, okay?

Andy Whitman said...

Karen, for the record, you can post about potty training or any other kid-related activity you like, and I will eagerly read it. I do eagerly read it, in fact. I love Simon and Greta, and I love the fact that you love them, too. It's a good thing.

Plus I'm feeling much better now that people have responded. :-)

Karen said...

i'm glad you are feeling better. i think most (god forbid i say ALL and have the ONE person that doesn't care read this) people with blogs have moments like this where they think "does anyone even read this?"

personally, one reason i have a blog is so others know what is going on in my life. it's technically for me...for my records and whatnot, but really i consider it more of an ongoing conversation. so not having interaction would bug me. that being said, i totally realize that there are posts i make that don't really inspire comments. and that's okay too. :)

i'm glad you like simon and greta. they're great kids!

John McCollum said...

Hi, Andy.

Of course I read your blog.

If I wrote as well as you, no one would comment on my blog either. Honestly.

It's would be much easier if you were just a little dumber. You could post:

"Dude, Nickelcreek Raawwwks!"

Then I could write back:

"Nuh uh, you freeek! So laamme! LOL ROTFL! FU!"

Your posts make me think, damnit. And I can't think and type at the same time.

Anyway, keep it up.