Friday, October 27, 2006

While I Was Out

During the time my PC was quarantined (due to a virus), I was listening to the new Sparklehorse album. My five year old son really likes the first track, "Don't Take My Sunshine Away", which is an homage to "Dear Prudence", and which makes it clear that Mark Linkous was interested in working with Dangermouse as a fan of the White Album rather than the Black Album. The songs are given a crisp and spacious production, but there's nothing on the album that differs substantially from earlier Sparklehorse records. In fact, at least two of the songs are old: "Morning Hollow" was a hidden track on It's a Wonderful Life, and "Shade and Honey" was used on the soundtrack to the movie Laurel Canyon. Reading through the credits and noting the repeat appearances of Tom Waits and the Portishead crew, I began to wonder if some of the songs date back to the sessions for the last Sparklehorse album.

Speaking of movies, American Hardcore just opened in Atlanta (at the Midtown Art Cinema). I read the book recently and was struck by the hypocrisy of some of the scene leaders (esp. Ian MacKaye, Harley Flanagan, Jack Grisham, and Al Barile). They complain about the attacks they endured for looking different, and lament the destruction of the hardcore scene at the hands of violent frat boy types, but they themselves spoiled the earlier club scene by beating up on older punks.

I strongly recommend seeing Tim Burton's Nightmare Before Christmas, which is playing in theaters in 3-D. The movie wasn't originally made in 3-D, so the moments that make use of the technology are happy accidents. But it looks (and sounds) great on the big screen, and I noticed little details that I never saw before, no matter how many times I've watched Nightmare at home with my kids.

I got to see Etta James in concert last week. She too looked and sounded great. She's lost a lot of weight (following gastric bypass surgery), and she's in better voice than she was when I saw her several years ago at Atlanta Symphony Hall. It's a real pleasure to see one of the greatest living singers, someone whose voice is unmistakably unique, and who can interpret others' songs and infuse them with her own personality. I was fortunate to see the great jazz singers Shirley Horn and Mel Torme in concert before their deaths, and I go see k.d. lang anytime she comes to Atlanta. Aaron Neville is another of the truly great singers I've had the pleasure to see and hear in concert.

There are few rock singers who I would place in that category, and they are certainly rare in the independent music scene, but I think Rachel Nagy of the Detroit Cobras is one of those few. The power of her voice, its rough-edged but sultry tone, and the humor and spirit she brings to her vocal performances make her an extraordinary singer. She doesn't sing to show off her vocal range; she sings with soul. I saw the Detroit Cobras the last time they were in Atlanta (at the EARL), and Rachel's voice was drowned out by the band. Hopefully whoever's at the mixing board when the Cobras visit Smith's Olde Bar next month will have a more sympathetic ear. One thing I discovered when I first saw them live is that, while Rachel is the face and voice of the Detroit Cobras, Maribel Restrepo is the heart of the band, and her rhythm guitar playing drives their songs. A strong rhythm guitarist is another rare but essential commodity.

Another good reason to check out the Detroit Cobras in Atlanta (on Saturday, November 4) or in a city near you, is that one of the opening acts is the King Khan and BBQ Show. (MP3's are available at their website.) Here's a description of the duo from "Allen Ginseng":
Two guys. One smashing a snare, bass drum and tambourine with his bare feet, molesting his guitar and singing like a possessed angel. The other spinning and howling like a freak and belting it out on his guitar like a savage. What does it all sound like? It sounds like five men. People name typical suspects when trying to describe them: The Velvet Underground, 13th Floor Elevators, Black Flag, The Falcons, Sam Cooke, The Sonics.... It's all true, and more. The show? A mess. Love songs, punkers, improvised riot-starters, dance-floor shakers, sing-along stompers, wild rockers, you name it. They always drench the crowd in raw energy, and they're always the last ones dancing.


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