- Written by Jason Crawford
- Published on 05 October 2012
Patterson Hood "Heat Lightning Rumbles In The Distance" ATO Records
Word has it that Patterson Hood's latest solo record, "Heat Lightning Rumbles In The Distance," was born of his attempt to write a book. I, for one, would love to read a book written by Patterson Hood (which reminds me that I still haven't checked out any of Steve Earle's prose), but I'm sure glad that this album was born of something. The guy's one of our greatest working storytellers and I guess he would be in any format he chose. I'm glad he's chosen music to this point. I've got a long list of books that I'm getting to, but I have plenty of space left on my record shelf. For now.
Truckers fans will find a limb to grab onto right away with album opener, "12:01," wherein Hood employs that single note guitar drone that's worked so well for him on "Heathen" and "Used To Be A Cop." The man may never run out from under the shadow that DBT has cast over the previous 15 years so the comparisons are inevitable, but "Heat Lightning" is no Truckers record, I can assure you. In fact, I can't think of a single guitar solo on either side. But Jay Gonzalez holds down the keyboard fort as admirably as he has on most recent Truckers work, and I'm guessing that Hood has no interest in playing with any drummers not named "Brad Morgan" by now. Gonzalez, especially, provides a lot of atmosphere on "Heat Lightning," and I've read more than one interview where Hood talks about the musical connection the two players share. It's a special thing to not have to translate your vision verbally to another musician. It's so much more lifelike when they feel it for themselves. And there's a lot of living chronicled in these grooves. A lot of searching, and plenty of surviving. The album is moody, a little on the softer side musically, but Hood doesn't often do "soft" subject matter. Despite the slower tempos and the lack of electric aggression, these songs don't seem dejected. I'm hearing perseverance through the pathos, strength through the sadness. "Depression Era," for instance, is a song that I found while watching "That Evening Sun" on DVD recently and I'm happy that it made its way onto one of Hood's long players. It seems like he may have re-recorded it for "Heat Lightning," but I can't be sure because I sent that DVD back to Netflix a while ago. It plays well with the rest of the stories here, I am sure of that. Kelly Hogan sings on "Come Back Little Star," and that's certainly an album highlight. Really, this one plays a lot like the book that Hood intended. Each song's a chapter in a story that speaks more to your emotions than your intellect. Like all great art does...
Hood is an avowed vinyl enthusiast and clearly takes pride in releasing quality wax. This one's heavy as an anvil and just as black, a perfect canvas on which to paint these beautiful songs. There's enough depth and space here to get lost in and crackles and pops would bring you back too soon. Luckily, there are none here to contend with. He throws the CD's booklet (along with the CD) into the gatefold as liners. It includes the lyrics and some lovely photos that Patterson's wife, Rebecca took. I'd be proud as hell right now if I were those folks.
Aimee Mann "Charmer" SuperEgo Records
Aimee Mann is a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Some still think of her as the girl in the '80's video freaking out in the opera house as a member of 'Til Tuesday. Sean Penn thinks of her as his sister-in-law. I think of her as the girl in "The Big Labowski" that sacrificed her toe to fool the Dude into thinking that Bunny Labowski had suffered at the hands of the nihilists. Meanwhile, she's enjoyed the type of successful career in music that turns me nine shades of green with envy. She supports herself doing what she loves (presumably), and she doesn't have to endure the type of fame that lands you on tabloid covers to do it. She's flown under the radar for decades now, and she just put out a phenomenal album called "Charmer." On her own label. Which she began so that she could have total artistic control over the music that she releases. Bob Dylan has a quote that goes something like, "a man is successful if he gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night, and does whatever he wants in between." I think Mann fits that description minus the "man" part. I like her.
It kind of grates my nerves to hear people describe music as "smart," but I'll be damned if I can come up with anything better for "Charmer." Everything works perfectly on this record with an efficiency that would make your boss proud. The sounds and textures, the lyrics and melodies, the pop instrumentation, all of it. Mann's lilting voice and melodic writing combine to build a formidable pop mansion of super songs on "Charmer" that stick in your cranium for good upon first exposure. I get the image of a more polite version of the "face sucker" in "Alien." This record sticks with you. That's all I'm trying to say. Mann has a bit of a reputation for melancholy, and she's earned it honestly according to the fans of hers that I'm most closely acquainted with. I've only admired her from afar until now, and I could never connect her to that chick freaking out in the opera house circa 1985. "Charmer" makes that connection a little easier to discern. It's delectably infectious with a pervasive synth sound that ties the record together the way Labowski's rug tied his room together. But there's also a layer of acoustic guitar under it that gives the listen great depth and spacing. It's ultra-pop music that doesn't strain itself to fit within a radio format. There's an audience for this, and probably a rather large one, but that audience is likely comprised of folks that have been around for a bit. I tried to catch her set at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival a while back, but that older, large audience prevented me from getting a decent look at her. Those folks have cause for celebration right now.
The vinyl version of "Charmer" jumps out at your eyes the way the songs do your ears. It's pressed on translucent yellow vinyl, and housed in the most psychedelic gatefold package that I've seen in a while. It has a spinning wheel on the front that will almost make you throw up. The set comes with a download coupon so you can bludgeon all of your buddies with the genius that is "Charmer." Let the bludgeoning begin. I'm all in.
Band Of Horses "Mirage Rock" Brown Records/Columbia Records
I had a hound dog growing up as a family pet. He had big ears, red hair, and allergies. He had to take Benadryl for that latter issue and we'd always try to sneak some in with his dog food, but he'd eat around it leaving only the bright pink pill in his bowl at the end. So, we'd eventually have to pry his mouth open with our hands, administer the medicine, hold his mouth shut with one hand while massaging his throat with the other until he swallowed the dose. That's about how I feel when checking out the latest hot new bands. Trouble is, I can't usually keep them down. But I went out on a limb this month and picked up "Mirage Rock" by Band of Horses. It's not strong enough to clear up my hay fever, but it's easily digestible. I'm glad I tried it.
I'd made a commitment to myself to only review new releases this month. It happens about as often as Halley's Comet. (The Stones live set that we've looked at is not a re-issue. It's a new release. Mission accomplished.) "Mirage Rock" barely made it in under the wire. I'd had a vague interest in the band since some friends back home are into them and they tour with My Morning Jacket occasionally. That's a pretty strong recommendation so I held my nose and drank it down. It's got jangly guitars, some fuzzy tones, some driving beats, and smooth vocals on top sung somewhat in the vein of Wayne Coyne. (I'm of the opinion that certain vocalists inspire eras of impersonators and Coyne is certainly one of those. A while back it was Dave Mathews, and way before that it was Eddie Vedder. I'm in Coyne's corner if I have to choose sides.) "Mirage Rock" has a serious classic rock vibe perhaps because it was engineered, produced and mixed by Glyn Johns which tells me that Band Of Horses is eating at the table with the big boys if nothing else. "Dumpster World" has some Crosby, Stills and Nash style vocal harmonies, but the Horses don't bludgeon you to death with it the way that CSN did in their heyday. Neil Young comparisons are inevitable but unfair as lead Horse, Benjamin Bridwell, clearly has his own thing happening even if it is informed by ghosts of rock 'n roll past. That's part of what makes it so listenable. I'd guess that Bridwell probably has pretty good taste in music. He certainly knows how to string a song together and he slips it past you kind of like sneaking a pill in with a dog's food except way more effectively. Drop the needle on "Mirage" and you'll be nodding along and tapping your feet before you realize what's happened to you. The kids got it right this time. Band Of Horses has got the goods. They may not spawn any movements, but they have a new fan.
I'm not sure where the expense is in "Mirage Rock," but it's a pricey one especially considering it's a single disc release. That single disc is pressed very nicely and housed in strong packaging. You get a gatefold with lots of pretty pictures, an inner sleeve with lyrics on it, a download coupon, and a poster. I'm too old for posters, but not too old for Band Of Horses. I'll be keeping an eye on them. Maybe you should too.
Bob Dylan "Tempest" Columbia Records
Bob Dylan announced that he'd finally shaken off the cultural scourge which was the 1980's with 1997's "Time Out Of Mind." There have been four albums of new material since, including "Tempest" which was released last month, and they've found their way out of the park every time. Dylan assumed the role of producer beginning with 2001's "Love and Theft," and he's done it in a fairly minimalist way that showcases his band's innate talent for finding the intricacies and brilliance in the simplest of song arrangements. These days, he often works within the framework of straight blues progressions (especially on "Modern Times" from 2006), and he populates his songs with wry lyrical commentary and age-defying wisecracks that seem to show him embracing his inner comedian. I no longer can detect the propulsive angst that pushed him kicking and screaming into World History. He's as observant as ever at this point, but more resigned and less participatory. It's still easy to overanalyze and completely dork out on what he's saying, but by now you get the idea that he might deny to you that he's saying anything at all. Regardless, "Tempest" is two tons of fun and finds Dylan's touring band in perhaps the finest form ever to be captured on a studio recording. It doesn't hurt to have David Hidalgo batting cleanup for the team either.
I have tickets to see Dylan in Berkeley soon and I can't wait to hear these songs live. I can tell already that "Pay In Blood" is going to be a beast onstage. The studio version finds the band featured a little more prominently in the mix than they are on the rest of the album, the guitars a little crunchier, the steel guitar break made all the more effective when those guitars fall back for a second. It's the most striking tune on "Tempest" from a groove standpoint. "Tempest" may be the song that folks find most fertile for lyrical study. It tells the story of the Titanic complete with Leonardo di Caprio references and all. Dylan mines a vast musical landscape over the course of these four sides including, but not limited to, Western swing, country, blues, and country blues. It doesn't lean quite as heavily on the Tex-Mex flavoring that "Together Through Life" did, but there's still plenty of Spanish seasoning in the gumbo. Overall, this is my favorite Dylan record since "Time Out Of Mind." The production is perfectly balanced, the instrumental spacing ideal for hearing the players in such an intimate, quiet presentation. And, in front of it all, Dylan's gloriously shaggy voice, full of buckshot and grit. If you can't find the beauty in it, then you're looking through the wrong lens. "Tempest" feels like finding that flawless leather jacket that you've been looking for since you lost your last one in a bar so many years ago. It's like a homecoming with all of the wisdom and comfort that years of living on your own terms can provide.
And the vinyl package is superb. The pressings are astounding. The two discs are deep black and silent. You'll need to replace the inner sleeves, but you won't want to throw away the originals. One of them has a photo of Dylan and the band (minus Hidalgo) that is worthy of being framed. A CD is included so you can take "Tempest" with you, but the vinyl's where it's at. Welcome home.
The Rolling Stones "Some Girls: Live in Texas '78" Promotone BV/Eagle Vision
At some point not too long ago, a bunch of bands realized that they could record their live shows at very little cost to them, do a little tweaking over the course of the following days, and sell the recordings to their fans online without sharing a dime with their record companies. Brilliant. Any day now, I'll be damaging my hearing even further with relatively high quality recordings of the My Morning Jacket and Wilco shows that I caught in Berkeley last month. A wondering spirit might fixate on how glorious it would have been for, say, the Rolling Stones to have had access to such technology when they were still vital. They didn't, but it's safe to bet that they've still got a vault full of recordings somewhere. As evidence, they've just released a show from Fort Worth in '78 as a double vinyl album with any accompanying DVD. It's called "Some Girls: Live in Texas '78." Not the most original title, but after 50 years of this nonsense Mick's not bothering himself much about it, I guess. It's a fine document of an exceptional era for the band. I'm glad someone found the key to that strongbox and I'm hoping it's full of stuff like this.
I'm especially enamored of the Stones sound circa '72, but it seems they hadn't lost much steam six years later. There was only one Mick in the band by then and he was as cartoonishly hilarious as he'd ever be. My first exposure to Jagger was as a small child watching the video for "Waiting on a Friend" about three years after this show was recorded. It's hysterical and there's more where it came from judging by the video included with this set. It's not only rock 'n roll, I assure you. It's theatre, and mayhem, and humor, and humiliation. On second thought, it is only rock 'n roll. And I like it. Seven of the ten songs from the "Some Girls" studio album are represented here and, unfortunately, "Before They Make Me Run" is not one of them. But "Beast of Burden" is. "Far Away Eyes" is, and the live version features Doug Kershaw on fiddle. Other highlights include "Star Star" and a killer romp through Chuck Berry's "Let It Rock." And Keith sings "Happy" which is a song I've probably heard twice for every day I've been alive and I'll never tire of it. It's great on "Some Girls Live" even with Mick's downright weird vocal styling's on top of it. Ronny Wood acquits himself quite nicely of Mick Taylor's ghost, and a grand time was had by all. It's a hot one, boys, make no mistake.
I'm pretty satisfied with this set although I feel like there were a couple of missed opportunities. The triple gatefold presentation is woefully lacking in the artwork/photography/liners department. They give you a tracklisting of the album sides on the far left and a tracklisting of the DVD's songs on the far right which are, obviously, identical. They could have put an essay there or some tour poster art. Anything, really. The sound is pedestrian, but the Stones were never the most technical of bands anyway. They went for feeling and there's tons of it here. You can hear all the players, and the guitarists weave a beautiful tapestry which is why most of us came, right? I'll replace the DVD with a Blu-Ray and I'll enjoy this for a long time. Good enough.