Saturday, June 12, 2010

Thoughts on Neil Young and Bert Jansch Solo Live

Bert looked and sounded great. His voice was clear, his fingerpicked, rolling melodies as indelible and definitive as those classic albums from the '70s (two of which are reviewed here). My friend was new to Jansch (he's not an obsessive like some of us), but as I said, "even if you're not familiar with the Bert's music, you've still heard it." Anyone who's followed 60s/70s prog rock and folk over the last 40 years knows his music. And let's not forget that Jansch was one of the guys who always championed Jackson C. Frank and helped turn a lot more people on to him in the process. Sitting there in the Meyerson and hearing him explain who Frank was to the nearly packed house (of mostly yuppie fucks) and play "Carnival" from The Black Swan was something of a dream come true. I felt like the only guy in that big room that even knew who Jackson Frank was, but I'm pretty sure I wasn't. Thanks to Jansch, maybe more folks will go digging and find something new that just might change their lives all over again.

Young also played with no accompaniment. We reasoned that the high ticket prices were as much to handle the considerable transport costs of Young's amazing stage set up (including two pianos and a pump organ!) as well as a way to weed out the skeptics who might not really dig the opportunity to see/hear a legend in such an intimate, albeit large scale, setting. Even though the set was almost two hours, it felt like half that as Young spent a considerable amount of time strolling about the stage, surveying various instruments and occasionally picking one up and playing it. We were meant to see this as Neil at home, spontaneously trying out this and that. Still it was a carefully choreographed and planned performance (he didn't really stray from the set list) and as such felt like more than just a rock show. This was a a one man stage show: The Story of Neil Young. Whether sitting hunched over his acoustic, kicking out the jams on Old Black or gently walking the stage with his down-tuned resonator guitar, Young showed the packed house scenes from his life and that, yes, he can still play a guitar, and even though he's nowhere near the virtuoso that Jansch is, he has just as much to say and just as much passion backing those notes. Really dug "Love and War" and the unreleased "Hitchhiker" was definitely a monolith. And it's hard to beat "After the Goldrush" on pipe organ. Thanks for a night to remember, Mr. Young.

Also wanted to mention Galactic Zoo Dossier, which remains my favorite print zine today, though there are a few great ones still knocking about (Yeti, Signal to Noise, Dream among them). What makes GZD so darn special is Plastic Crimewave's (aka Steve Krakow) love of all things graphic art and especially vintage comics. So you get key interviews with Guru Guru, Peter Walker and awesome pieces on Eddie Hazel, The Gods (proto Heep!), Hoyt Axton and many more nestled alongside comic panels about acid tripping superheroes and psychsploitation curios from the 60s and 70s, with every single word written (legibly) by hand! And let's not forget the Guitar God and Astral Folk Goddess trading cards! Plus a CD. It's an institution. Order it here.

Shit I'm a' diggin' lately: UNSANE! Aaron Dilloway posted an Unsane clip on Facebook yesterday, and as a result I've downloaded their recorded output on the Ipod and been raping my mind with their noise-core delights. Such an amazing band! I never did get around to scribbling some words on those two (Wooden) Wand records that dropped last year, but I like 'em a lot, 'specially Hard Knox (Ecstatic Peace) and wanted to congratulate James Toth for making the move to the legendary Young God Records. That reminds me -- Swans are back! But then maybe you knew that.

I'm happy that The New Pornographers are making good music again. I'd say Together (Matador) is their best record since Mass Romantic. And just to prove that their hearts are in the right place, they've simultaneously released an EP of Outrageous Cherry covers! Not sure if it's digital only or what, as I've only been able to find it on Itunes. Also in awe of the new Exile on Main St. expanded reissue. It's a monster and the "rebrushed" new songs (actually old takes with some slight mix tweaking) sound pretty stellar. I agree with those who wonder why can't this classic lineup reconvene and do it one more time? Give Woodsy his walking papers and get Mick Tayler back in the saddle where he belongs. Yeah, right! I want to see this too. Other things I love right now: Woods At Echo Lake (Woodsist), Phospherescent Here's To Taking It Easy (Dead Oceans), Jack Rose Luck in the Valley (Thrill Jockey), Rangda False Flag (Drag City), Ohioan High Country (Infinite Front), Bonnie 'Prince' Billie and The Cairo Gang The Wonder Show Of The World (Drag City) Voice of the Seven Thunders s/t (Holy Mountain) and the reissue of The Cleaners From Venus tape, Midnight Cleaners (Burger Records), in its original format no less. Sounds sort of like Ariel Pink, but about a gillion times better. Never a dull moment, folks!

In honor of Neil, I leave you with stellar live version of "Get Right Church" from MV/EE with The Canada Goose Band:

Saturday, June 05, 2010

This is My Music Vol 6, Part 2 (Spirit of Love)

Alela Diane To Be Still (Names Records) CD - Another amazing discovery from this past year -- I saw Diane share a bill with Marissa Nadler in Ft. Worth, and she made a definite imprint on the gray matter with her old soul voice, impressionistic lyrics and delicate touch on guitar. With To Be Still, It all coalesces into a warm, gentle slice of Americana that falls somewhere between the hazy country folk of Townes Van Zandt and more recently Gillian Welch. Diane makes it sound all too easy, but I know better.

Ex-Reverie The Door Into Summer (Language of Stone) CD - Killer Philly ensemble here performing a spectral psych folk/glam rock hybrid that conjures a dark minimal magic that's inescapable as heard in the stripped down harmonies and hand claps of "Dawn Comes for Us All." Its austere chorus erupts into an awesome post Sabbath snarl with Gillian Chadwick's ethereal vocals serving as the perfect foil to all that demonic fuzz. They come off sort of like Sandy Denny fronting Bardo Pond at points. The Door Into Summer (its title, I'd guess, taken from the Robert A. Heinlein novel of the same name) is pervaded with a kind of solitary mysticism that references Fairport Convention, Jefferson Airplane and modern day misty eyed psych folkies like Espers (whose Greg Weeks is a big fan). This is the kind of album I thought they stopped making back in '76. Glad I was wrong!

The Kitchen Cynics Flies One / Flies Two (Perhaps Transparent) 2CD-R - I still have fond memories of watching Alan Davidson, who basically is The Kitchen Cynics, having an intense discussion about Mississippi blues with Jack Rose in the basement of a taqueria in Providence, RI. That kind of passion isn't fabricated. And as a songwriter Davidson is all passion and aching emotion with his sepia toned visitations of moments passed but not forgotten. From his home base in Aberdeen, Scotland, he's labored in relative obscurity through the years, releasing 20-plus fuzz tinged trad psych folk collections for the faithful in various formats, showcasing his soft croon and slightly outsider perspective on life, love and the passing of time. His songs are centered around his trusty acoustic and voice, both doused in reverb, along with some effects, flute, piano and bells woven in.

Flies plays like a greatest hits 2CD, only it's entirely new material recorded over the past two years specifically for this release, and I'd say its as fine a summation of what Davidson's been up to as any I've heard so far. He's operating at the peak of his abilities here. Flies One finds sleepy folk melodies draped in reverb and effects with fingerpicked melodies which reach an emotional crescendo on "Green Grows the Laural2," a long lost meeting of psych folk Donovan and the Incredible String Band. It's a masterpiece that takes its time telling a story of youthful longing refracted through the prism of age over a meticulously crafted musical backdrop. Davidson's playing and singing here are destined to leave a lump in the throat of even the most die-hard rationalist. Also remarkable from One is the 16 min "Conversation Pieces" which unites a renaissance air with exploratory prog and improv in a way that should appeal to lovers of spaced out MV/EE. Two is just as good with a combination of delicate instrumentals and even some banjo in the case of the haunting "Miss Tiptoe." Fans of Roy Harper, Incredible String Band, COB (whose "Music of the Ages" is covered here) really need this one, me thinks.

Ben Nash The Seventh Goodbye (Aurora Borealis) CD - Here's another one that's been bouncing around the cosmic corridors for a while now. The Seventh Goodbye is some primo astral folk and blues with a strong debt to Six Organs of Admittance that still manages to sound like something more than just an awesome knockoff. Nash has a great tone within a dense mix of effects, ethnic flourishes, odd percussion and chants, and the results across these eight tracks offer a diverse mix of more song-based morsels and epic trance psych jams that transfix without wearing out their welcome. Nash was just 23 when he recorded this. Impressive.

Shawn David McMillen Dead Friends (Tompkins Square) CD - Dead Friends is the followup to McMillen's solo debut, Catfish, also on Tompkins Square. Where that one evinced a more broken free noise feel, which wouldn't sound too shocking to anyone familiar with McMillen's Ash Castes on the Gulf Coast, this one has a more shambolic country blues feel, with debts to Neil Young, The Band, Stones and McMillen's time with Warmer Milks (which yielded the ridiculously under-heard Soft Walks LP on Animal Abuse). Rickety folk space gives way to the beat down loner blues with slowly cycling basslines and acoustic embellishments before we're dumped in the grime with the damaged industrial psych of "The Moth," which gives way to the Exile on Mainstreet country glory of "No Time Left in This Place," featuring some soaring fiddle action from Ralph White. The more I listen the more I realize this is basically a kind of musical summation of McMillen's psychedelic interests over the years, and as much as I want to try to classify or tag it, it's impossible. Thumbs way up.

PG Six Live at VPRO Amsterdam (Perhaps Transparent) CD-R - PG Six is one of the main contributors in the mighty Tower Recordings (originators of fractured post industrial folk bliss); solo he offers something a bit more controlled and structured in the trad UK psych folk mold. His first two solo albums are classics in the genre -- then and now -- and this awesome live session, captured crisply at VPRO's Dwar's Festival in Amsterdam, comes from right around that fertile period in PG's solo timeline in late '04. The songs here are drawn mostly from his debut, Parlor Tricks and Porch Favorites (Amish), and feature the stripped down duo of PG Six on guitar/voice and Tim Barnes (also of Tower Recordings, Jim O'Rourke, the Quakebasket label, etc) on percussion. PG has since moved on from this sound into a slightly more folk rock sound, but I always hope solo (or in this case duo) PG Six isn't too far from sight, as there is clearly always magic in the air when these two combine their considerable talents. Also very happy to see Townes Van Zandt's "High, Low and In Between" featured here, as PG covers it better than anyone. His voice is an old friend I'm always ready to catch up with. Thanks Transparent Radiation for making it possible!

Skygreen Leopards Gorgeous Johnny (Jagjaguwar) CD - It's been a minute since we last heard from the Jeweled Antlered psych folk butterflies in Skygreen Leopards, and it's been worth the wait as Gorgeous Johnny is the most focused and tuneful fuzz folk diorama they've turned out yet. Along with the expected folk and pop influences (from Donovan to Dylan and Nagisa Ni Te) is a more pronounced vintage psych pop feel (The Kinks, Love, The Zombies) and the arrangements are stronger, the hooks sharper, and Glenn Donaldson has never sounded better with his acid kissed higher register vocals. A very fine folk drift for lazy Sunday afternoons that should appeal to fans of classic folk pop and modern twee strum at the same time.