Section by Jeb D.
The Corin Tucker Band
No matter how strong a band’s songwriting or instrumentation may be, there’s a sense in which the lead singer will always be the aural “face” of the band. Combine that with the heightened expectation of an eventual Sleater-Kinney reunion, and that’s a lot of pressure for Corine Tucker. And where Janet Weiss is able to avoid some of that pressure with the more prog-leaning Quasi, and Carrie Brownstein pretty much stepped away from music for a bit, Tucker’s working within a pop-rock song format that’s going to make S-K comparisons irresistible. She takes the first step away from the trademark sound by shifting her focus from the over-the-top yelps of yore, and allowing the range of her voice to show through, going from throaty growl to rock and roll roar on tracks like “Handed Love”: it begins with the daily mundane of “Pick out your best coat / you’ll need it today/ Put your lipstick on / make it your freshest face,” then lets the music build through the letting go of “I think I know what hurts! / What aches!,” her voice and the raging guitars, catch the perfect emotional pitch. The brittle guitars give way now and again to slightly fussy instrumentation (I could do without the fiddle on “Dragon”), but most of the sound is pretty four-square and direct. It’s not an album that takes big leaps or huge chances; geographic and emotional distance are evoked on “Half A World Away” and “Miles Away,” and “Doubt” is probably closer to S-K than she may have intended. In the end, it’s a fairly straightforward rock album charting the somewhat normal life of a woman whose fans, rightly or wrongly, are probably expecting something just a tad more skewed.
In honor of what would have been Lennon’s 70th birthday, we’ve got a re-release package of… well, everything. Eleven CD’s, including remasters of all the post-Beatles studio albums, as well as two CD’s of rare demos, a 65-page book, and new remembrances from Yoko and sons Sean and Julian. Two hundred bucks, though, and apart from the consistent strength of Lennon’s voice (he remains my favorite rock and roll singer of all time), there’s a pretty wide gulf between the highs and the lows. Which means that one of the week’s other reissues might make a bit more financial sense if you just want a birthday taste. The 2-disk Double Fantasy reissue includes the remastered original album, plus a new “stripped-down” mix supervised by Yoko; it certainly puts more focus on Lennon’s voice, and a lot of fans will prefer it (though the original production still has a kitschy feel to it that, in retrospect, seems to suit Lennon’s sense of humor). The forty-dollar 4-CD set Gimme Some Truth is a remastered career retrospective that could have easily boiled down to three disks (or even two): apart from the remastering, there’s really nothing that makes it a superior choice to such previous collections as Legend or Working Class Hero; it also feels weirdly out of balance: I’ll agree that the Spector-ized Rock N Roll album was underrated at the time, but I don’t know that it needed to take up three-fourths of the final CD.
Mary Halvorson Quintet
I played parts of this for a couple of casual jazz fans. One of them said something like “She’s doing things with that guitar that would have impressed Hendrix.” The other one asked why the woman was feeding her guitar into a woodchipper. They’re basically both right: Halvorson is among the most technically gifted guitarists in modern music, and she can match chops with the Satrianis, Methenys, and Howes any day of the week. Her music, though, is tough, angular modern jazz, all hard corners and structured dissonance. She supplements her regular accompanists, bassist John Hebert and drummer Ches Smith, with a shifting assortment of reed and brass, and it’s a terrific blend of sound, though it’s the trio numbers that really pull off the “turn-on-a-dime” ensemble. I’ll admit that the industrial-age song titles can be a little over-precious, but when you hear the insane fretwork on something like “Sea Seizure (No. 19),” or the gloriously soulful blend of sounds on “Crescent White Singe (No. 13),” you’re inclined to forgive the whiff of pretentiousness. Definitely not an album for the Kenny G crowd, but if you dig adventurous, challenging modern jazz, this is a must-hear.
DOO – WOPS & HOOLIGANS
Nice work on the drug bust, Bruno, but you really didn’t need the extra pub: the perfectly-crafted pop/soul confections on display here should have been enough. Unlike Aloe Blacc, Mars isn’t channeling the Marvin Gaye of “What’s Going On” or “Mercy Mercy Me”; these songs are smooth, romantic grooves and dance numbers more in the vein of “Let’s Get It On” mixed with “Got To Give It Up,” with the bonus of up to date beats and modern studio expertise that is amazingly assured for this 24-year-old. “Just The Way You Are” you’ve heard (the “needle-on-vinyl” effect is both wonderfully retro and a nice wink at today’s DJ’s), and most of the rest of the album goes down just as smoothly: “Our First Time” has the exuberance of youth on the brink, and “Runaway Baby” is everything Phil Collins wished his Motown album was (though “The Lazy Song” is a bit over-the-top cutesy). B.o.B. returns the “Nothin’ On You” favor on “The Other Side,” and guest Damian Marley manages to keep “Liquor Store Blues” from sounding completely ludicrous. I say the man’s earned his “Get Out Of Jail Free” card.
Other Noteworthy October 5th Releases
The Avett Brothers, Live Volume 3. Much as I enjoy these guys, isn’t three live albums in five years a bit much? Still, great stuff.
Marnie Stern, Marnie Stern. Little girl with a big Fender Jazzmaster and a wall of bright, chirpy pop sound nicely decorated with her finger-tapping runs and punchy percussion from Zach Hill. “Female Guitar Players Are The New Black”? You betcha.
Fistful of Mercy, As I Call You Down. Dhani Harrison’s presence has people comparing this band to The Traveling Wilburys, but Ben Harper’s not exactly Tom Petty (forget Bob Dylan), and there’s nothing even resembling the pipes of Roy Orbison. Gentle pop that sometimes rewards careful listening, but which rarely makes any effort to grab your attention to do so.
Joe Satriani, Black Swans & Wormhole Wizards. Not available for preview, but after a dozen albums, if Satriani hasn’t broken outside the hardcore fan base, I doubt this one will change matters. On the other hand, for his hardcore fan base, essential.
Chet Baker, She Was Too Good to Me. 40th anniversary remaster features one of Baker’s best bands (Ron Carter, Bob James, Steve Gadd, Jack DeJohnette, Hubert Laws, Paul Desmond) and some of his most sensitive playing. “With A Song in My Heart” is a standout, and if the ragged voice of his later years made you wonder what people ever heard in his singing, give a listen to the stunning “What’ll I Do.”
Guster, Easy Wonderful. This band is so genial and pleasant that it’s tough to feel much of an emotional connection: at one point, they tell me “This Is How It Feels To Have A Broken Heart.” Thing is, stronger bands would show me, not tell me. As I say, definitely genial and pleasant; listenable if not memorable.
KT Tunstall, Tiger Suit. Um… Scots thrush lays down the beats. Or at any rate, hires some folks to do it for her while she gets “Lost” in “Golden Frames” and then “Fades Away Like A Shadow.” Take it from me-anyone who would write and sing a song called “(Still A) Weirdo” just wishes she was that interesting.
The Microscopic Septet, Friday the 13th: The Micros Play Monk. The only surprising thing about this album is that it took so long for these expert, intelligent players to get around to it. Some of the greatest harmonic compositions of the 20th century, wrapped in 21st century urgency. Highly recommended.
Tricky, Mixed Race. Not the comeback some were expecting, but probably not intended to be: the music ranges widely, from Jamaica to London to New York, and what sticks in your head are touches like the guest appearance by Algerian rai guitarist Hakim Hamadouche, and the “Peter Gunn” stylings of “Murder Weapon.”
Clinic, Bubblegum. I’m not usually a huge fan of coy album titles, but when a group can move so sharply from the acoustic psychedelia of “Milk & Honey” to the proto-punk of “Orangutan,” I’m inclined to cut them some slack.