Media

A Collection of New Vinyl for the Audiophile - April, 2013

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds "Push The Sky Away" Bad Seed Ltd.

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Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

I'd not paid a lick of attention to Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds until 2008's Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! That album rocked. Their latest does not. It's called Push The Sky Away, and it is fantastic. Like a lot of what's going on nowadays, the record makes use of a lot of non-organic sounds. Synthesizers, loops, the works. Fortunately, someone in the Nick Cave camp knows how to integrate those sounds with live string sections, lazy drums, and real live acoustic instrumentation. It adds up to something unlike anything else in my collection while still maintaining its listenability (that must be a word because my spell check didn't flag it). By that, I mean that the record's strangeness does not come flying at your face with guns ablaze. It sneaks into your listening room and sits down next to you with a bottle of cheap wine and a book of poetry about Catholicism. Or something. 

I get a little bent when people call songwriters poets. Because they're not. Unless they are. But they're not poets when they're writing their songs. They do that as songwriters. One glance at Bob Dylan's lyrics on the printed page will bear this out, and I doubt that he would debate that with me. It's especially glaring when the lyrics are printed with all of the repeated lines included. These lines are repeated as parts of a song, not parts of a poem, so why do we need to read them over and over on the page? Well, Nick Cave (and Vic Chesnutt) prints his lyrics without the repeats. He doesn't necessarily stick to the script either. There are variations between what's printed in the liners and what you hear through your speakers. This may not interest many folks, but it's a detail that I get off on. Cave's literary gift comes across quite clearly on Push The Sky Away, and in the album's liners. This is not for the kids (check out the lyrics on "Mermaids" if you don't believe me), and it is not for casual listening. These are songs that you'll want to study and spend some time with before you banish them to the netherworld of background music. That's not to suggest that you'll ever gain any clarity with regards to Cave's intentions or artistic process. But you might get some pointers if you're looking for some. Push The Sky Away was the first Bad Seeds record recorded without founding member Mick Harvey who had been with Cave for 36 years. That may account for some of the differences in tone as compared to Lazarus or it may have simply been time to make a quieter record. Again, I can't say much about earlier Cave works, but I'll probably gravitate more towards Lazarus than Sky. That's just me. Still, I can imagine plenty of occasions that would benefit from Sky as their soundtrack. Most of those scenes would be played out way past midnight and sometime before 8am the following morning. There's certainly a market for that.

Push The Sky Away is a brief affair relative to most new releases. It's pressed on a single heavy record and housed in a textured cover. That cover has a smoking photo of Cave and his wife on it which is worth the record's price by itself. Cave's strong black suit contrasts perfectly with his wife's naked vulnerability. It's a perfect summation of the work found within. I can't recommend it enough for those of us who live a little past midnight.  

(This album was purchased at MusicDirect.com.)

Jack White and the Bricks "Live On the Garden Bowl Lanes: July 9, 1999" Third Man Records

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Jack White and the Bricks

A few months ago, I started getting emails from Third Man Records explaining that the latest Vault Package was shipping soon. I already knew that the set was based around one of Jack White's side projects from 1999 and that the band included Brendan Benson, one of White's cohorts from the Raconteurs. This was made all the more exciting because I'd paid my $60 quarterly dues for the record club months in advance. So, although I most certainly was not, it felt like I was getting the set for free. Jack White and The Bricks recorded Live On the Garden Bowl Lanes: July 9, 1999 as the opening act for the Greenhornes. It should surprise no one to learn that Garden Bowl is/was located in Detroit and that the performance documented on this release rocks with all the fury of a heavyweight cage fight. It's a little more surprising to find that the sound quality on these recordings is flimsy at best and probably closer to poor.  

The astute observer may note that the White Stripes debut album was unleashed around the same time that the Bricks were rocking the lanes. In fact, The White Stripes had been available for all of about three weeks when this Bricks show happened. Garden Bowl includes one tune from The White Stripes and four more that would later be released on the Stripes' White Blood Cells record in 2001. I've read a couple of things that suggest that the Bricks actually got their hands on the tunes before the White Stripes had worked them up. Regardless, they sound really similar and there are no real surprises to be found here as far as that goes. It's a little surprising and more than a bit jarring when the sound cuts out entirely during the Bricks' take on Dylan's "Isis." It comes back gradually over the course of another minute or so, but it's hard to tell if it ever makes it back all the way because the sound kinda sucks from the jump. This is a bootleg for the Jack White enthusiast, not a sonic dreamscape for the audiophile. It sounds like he was singing through a guitar amp in front of maybe 30 folks. By now, it should go without saying that Big Jack was rocking full on as if he were playing the Glastonbury Festival in front of 135,000 screaming maniacs. On July 9, 1999, Jack White was the screaming maniac, and I'd have loved to have been the 31st person there to see it. My first Vault Package (the last one which featured White's two bands from his Blunderbuss days) kicks the stuffing out of this one, and I could see myself letting go of the Garden Bowl record one day. But one album does not a Vault Package make...

The DVD that was included as part of the package is a live document of a tour featuring the White Stripes and a band called Whirlwind Heat. It is not essential. It is fun. Sometimes a little tedious. Whirlwind Heat makes some interesting sounds and the Stripes, of course, kill at every turn. But the real gold in this Vault Package is the 7". It features a wonderfully rough demo version of "Steady As She Goes" which would later be a hit for the Raconteurs. It's a crown jewel in my 45 collection and I will not be (willfully) parting with it ever. Thanks.

Miles Davis "In Person - Friday and Saturday Nights At The Blackhawk, San Francisco" Impex Records

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Miles Davis

I thought that the Impex Records reissue of Miles Davis' In Person At The Blackhawk, San Francisco was one of those found recordings that had been sitting in a vault somewhere for decades, similar to the Coltrane/Monk set from Carnegie Hall on Mosaic. The sound quality can be pretty hit or miss on those types of deals so I let this one sit for a bit even after falling all over myself listening to Ellington Indigos as done by Impex. Then, I realized that the Blackhawk recordings were official releases and that the shows were performed with recording in mind and I started to get excited. Then, I realized that I walk right by the venue's former site on my way to night school after work at least twice weekly. There's a plaque set into the sidewalk that marks the spot. The spot, in this case, looks a lot like a parking lot these days. The playground across the street has a sign on it that says "adults must be accompanied by children." It's in an area of town where crack is smoked during daylight hours in the most casual fashion. Folks walk around with Glasgow Grins and their pants around their knees. And Miles Davis made some amazing recordings there in 1961.  

The Miles Davis Quintet of the era included Hank Mobley on sax, and the rhythm section from Kind Of Blue (with Wynton Kelly on keys, not Bill Evans). The thing that excites me about this lineup is that it's super easy to pick out exactly what each member is contributing. As long as you can tell the difference between a sax and a trumpet, you can visualize exactly what was going on. There's no Cannonball Adderley to compete with Coltrane on sax, for instance. And creative visualization is no grand undertaking with a recording this clear. You're pretty much right in the thick of things anyway so all that's left is to close your eyes and to go there. The communication between the musicians is intense. The call and response between Davis and Kelly on the album opener, "Walkin'," tips you off to that right away. And that's before Mobley goes for his. I will say this right now: I love Hank Mobley's work as a saxophonist. His name may not have the cachet that Adderley's or Coltrane's does, but the guy could blow. (Get Roll Call now and thank me later.) Blackhawk was originally released as two separate sets, one for the Friday show and one for Saturday. There's also a Complete set available on CD, but who cares about those? Thankfully, Impex restored the original artwork which is slicker than bat dung, and twenty times cooler than the watered down CD artwork, and released Friday and Saturday as a set. This one is all mood, man. From the song selections, to the performances, to the artwork, to Ralph J. Gleason's original liners that are reprinted here in the gatefold. I've walked from my apartment to see Dylan and all kinds of other cool shows. But I'd give my right arm to have walked down to the Blackhawk to see these shows. (I wasn't doing much walking in 1961 as it would be another decade before my parents met so I'll have to make do with the Impex set. I've had worse problems.)

These records are pressed on heavy, deep black vinyl. The gatefold is beyond strong. You could brandish it as a weapon if you had to walk by the Blackhawk's old corner at night. The recordings are three dimensional and transparent. It's a grand slam except that the first record in my set (number 373 out of 2000) has a nasty tick in it for the last couple of minutes on side one. No amount of cleaning will take it out. It's there to stay. I'm so enamored of the release that I may go for round two in hopes of snagging a tickless copy. Get this one while you can. It's essential.

(This album was purchased at MusicDirect.com.)