Sunday, February 16, 2014

Weekend Music Roundup

This was a rather busy week for me, which combined with a slow week for new releases, led to me the comforts of familiar favorites. When I don't have time to invest myself in bands that aren't known to me, I find it easier to digest work by bands that I've grown to love over time. That was essentially the case this week as I delved into albums that were new to me, if not completely unknown. Because of that, this list represents a wide-range of my listening habits over the past 25 years. There's lots to be appreciated here. Enjoy.

Jeff Tweedy - Roadcase 027: Over the past few years, Wilco has been releasing selected live concerts in a digital format. A couple of weeks ago, they released this Jeff Tweedy solo concert from December, the fourth acoustic show in a series of L.A. performances where he didn't repeat songs. If you've heard, or seen, a Wilco concert, then you know one of the highlights is Jeff's ability to interact with the audience. That skill is definitely on display in this recording and one of the best parts of it is the hilarious banter he engages in. Musically, it is also exceptional. Hearing the scaled back versions of their songs is a real treat. "Sky Blue Sky," "Jesus Etc," and "Radio Cure" are among the many highlights in this fantastic set.

Nick Drake - Made to Love Magic: Back in the late '80s when Nick Drake's catalog was finally being issued onto CD, Hannibal Records put out a disc of rarities called Time of No Reply. Unfortunately that album didn't make it into the latest round of reissues and it is nearly impossible to find these days. However Island Records put this out instead. It includes 9 of the 11 unreleased tracks from Time of No Reply in addition to demo versions of outstanding songs like "River Man." I've been on huge Nick Drake kick lately and this has been a wonderful addition. As always, he sounds like a prophet from some forgotten fairy land, telling us all tales of sad beauty. Among the rare songs, "Joey," "Clothes of Sand," and "Black Eyed Dog"  are essential.

Jean Grae - Jeannie: Over the past decade, Jean Grae has been the best female MC around in my opinion. She's been busy over the past year, releasing three EPs last year and now this one last month. Only five songs, and a few feel more like interludes, this definitely isn't essential Jean. However, added to her other body of work, it makes a nice addition. When she does rhyme on here, it's pretty subtle, but flawless. Great beats as usual and always intelligent verses.

Jim Kweskin & The Jug Band - See Reverse Side for Title: One of the recent finds on my Texas vinyl shopping spree was this 1967 album from one of my favorite bands of the underground folk movement of the '60s. This is the band's fifth album, and the second of three albums released that year. The band broke up the next year after one more album and many people consider this to be their best. Though I prefer '65's Jug Band Music and '66's Relax Your Mind, this certainly stands besides those with its head held high. This album has a more established sound to it, probably because the scene was becoming an establishment by this time. It's what you'd expect a "folk" record to be, but the band still finds ways to be surprising. "Chevrolet" and "Papa's on the Housetop" are real gems.

Nirvana - Bleach Out! Break Out!: This bootleg captures the band during a 1989 performance in Chicago during the Bleach album tour. They basically play the entire album in random order, along with several other tracks floating around at that time such as "Spank Thru" and "Polly." One of the great things about Nirvana concert bootlegs is that the energy they put into every show reveals itself, especially on a fine audio recording like this one. What's interesting about these early shows is that you can tell there are very few people in the audience, yet you wouldn't know by the effort put into each song. They totally rock through their set. Krist's driving bass establishes the tempo while Kurt's guitar screeches wildly between verses. Definitely one of the best concert bootlegs from this era of the band.

Luke Haines - Rock and Roll Animals: As a member of The Auteurs, Black Box Recorder, and Baader Meinhof, Luke Haines was a pivotal figure of my late '90s listening habits. Though his solo records of the last decade haven't grabbed me in the same way of those of his former bands, I took a chance on this one released last year, mainly because I loved the cover. I was rewarded with an album that feels very much like The Auteurs combined with the softness of Black Box Recorder. Like most of his work, it's hard to categorize. There's something of a Bowie weirdness to it, with folk inflections, pop melodies, and a rock edge. This is a really good concept album following the life three animals and feels like a storybook in songs, and every one of them is very enjoyable. This was a pleasant surprise and I'm glad I took the chance on it.

Shirley Temple - Curtain Call: A few years ago I was on the hunt for Shirley Temple records on vinyl and was having a hard time finding any. Then during a West Coast shopping spree, I found two of them in $1 bins, one in Portland and one in Olympia, and I snatched them up. For whatever reason, both have avoided their turn on the Roundup but this seemed like a good week to mention them giving her passing. What I find so enjoyable about her songs is that she sounds like a child when she sings. So often we see child performers with amazing grown up voices, but that wasn't Shirley's appeal. This album features many songs from her early films, and while musically the tunes aren't very compelling, her adorableness shines through, especially on songs like "You Got to Eat Your Spinach, Baby" and "On Account of I Love You." There's also her playfulness in "At the Codfish Ball" and "When I Grow Up" that will make almost anyone smile. Certainly this is not an everyday kind of record, but when you're in the mood, there's nothing quite like it. 

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