Friday, August 6, 2004

Looking in the mix

This note?s for you

by Keith Waller

Like the smiles it brings to our faces, music is a universal language that we all seem to understand. In social situations it can elevate the mood to a fever pitch or bring it down to a contemplative one. Most of us can remember where we were, whom we were with and what we were doing when certain unforgettable songs first dominated the airwaves, or when classic albums seemed to be in rota-tion on everyone?s turntables.

At parties, I always find myself at some point flipping through the host?s music collection. The kind of music people listen to maybe won?t tell you the kind of persons they are, but it definitely provides clues to things that you may have in common.

With that thought in mind, I?d like to toss out a short list of recordings that are in heavy rotation in my CD player right now that you may not have heard about.

The amazing thing about ?Shake Some Action? by the Flamin? Groovies is not so much that it hap-pened, but when it happened. In 1976, the world was dominated by rock taken to an excessive extreme, disco, and the emerging punk scene. So here comes this record that would have fit perfectly into 1964. The San Fran-cisco band recorded this gem with Dave Edmunds in England and it?s a slice of British Invasion pop heaven. Short, melodic, jangly pop songs with tight vocal harmonies and simple flawless playing. The Groovies cover of the Beatles ?Misery? will have you checking the credits to make sure it isn?t the Fab Four.

?Nashville? by Bill Frisell. Frisell. He is a gifted guitarist who typically is filed under Jazz, but there are al-ways other influences hovering around his music. Here, he allows his country leanings to come to the fore-front and like the great Ray Charles? similar experiment, he hits the bull?s eye. Teamed with dobro wizard Jerry Douglas, members of Union Station and Lyle Lovett?s band, he serves up a slew of beautiful jazz influenced original instrumentals with a nod toward Chet Atkins and Merle Travis. Robin Holcomb adds her gorgeous vocals to three choice covers by Neil Young, Skeeter Davis and Hazel Dickens.

?Chinatown? by the Be Good Tanyas. This female trio of multi-instrumentalists from Canada contin-ues to carry the torch held by fellow countrymen Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and Bruce Cockburn. This recording feels like it could have been made in Appalachia in the 1940s, except for the fact that it sounds so fresh and contemporary. Haunting, minor key songs with sometimes dark brooding lyrics stay elevated by the angelic three part harmony and spare but clean acoustic guitar, banjo, fiddle and mandolin. These gals sound like the Dixie Chicks might sound if they wandered into a Lower East Side loft where Lou Reed and the Velvet Un-derground were playing, and never found their way out.

?No, You C?mon? by Lambchop. This band has to be the most genre-defying group to call Nashville home. Kurt Wagner is the driving creative force behind this revolving door group of musicians. This recording is one of two that Lambchop released on the same day. The other record is called ?Aw, C?mon? and the two get my vote for the most ambitious and best music so far in 2004.

The record starts and ends with polished and lush instrumentals that I can only describe as movie music with some backbone. In between are smoky, jazz-influenced, avant garde sonic landscapes with quirky lyrics and whiskey-soaked vocals that might be how Cat Stevens would sound if someone forgot to let him in and he stayed out all night in the rain.

All of these worthy recordings come highly recommended especially if your music collection needs a bit of an upgrade or something out of the ordinary.

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