Listening Notes, Ultra-Brief (pt. 13)


Withered Hand, Good News

Not so much overlooked in this country as just unknown, Edinburgh-based Dan Willson followed up two EP’s with this fairly astonishing full-length, released back in September 2009 and only recently talked up stateside by a wise few. Heed the good press, because missing this knowing, funny, heartfelt album would be almost tragic. Musically, I suppose one could sloppily reference Belle and Sebastian, but this is far more shambolic, folky, edgy, and moving, while Willson’s vocals possess a pre-pubescent tremble that both undercut and shore up the fragility of his words. And the words – refreshingly candid about sexual dead ends and the pitfalls of religious belief, both conversational and tightly composed. Even if Willson’s not as familiar with Kierkegaard as I suspect he is, they’re kindred spirits in assigning doubt a central role in both the shoring up and dissolving of personal faith.

David Rodigan, Fabriclive 54

Rodigan’s a reggae-loving Radio London DJ who just turned 60 and looks more like a chartered accountant than one of the most respected riddim selectors on the scene. But he’s beloved by Jamaican Londoners, and on this mix, he displays his considerable talents by not once indulging in crate digging or fancy fades. Just 21 quality tracks, equally drawn from the glory days of roots/dub and the recent flash of dancehall. By refusing to distinguish between past and present, he mounts a political argument - though he’d never say it so forcefully, Rodigan’s here to tell you any reports of Jamaican culture slipping into decadence are merely the latest attempt by colonialists to capitalize on a nation’s supposed savagery. 


John Armstrong Presents South African Funk Experience

Well-meaning yet confounding compilation by UK label Nascente, skipping and jumping through three decades and across the nine provinces with little thematic unity. Into this wide swath are gathered the not-funky-at-all big band swing of Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath, the Soweto mainstream move of crowd-pleasers Kataki, bald disco and James Brown swipes, and the transcendent chicken-scratch funk backing the Mahotella Queens and the great Mahlathini, whose basso profundo enlivens every track he graces. So ignore the theoretical “funk” theme tying this together, skip the handful of duds scattered throughout, and marvel once again at a land as blessed with melody and uplifting harmony as any other.

Charles Lloyd / Maria Farantouri, Athens Concert

Lloyd’s brand of spiritual jazz has been blowing minds since his Fillmore days, and shallow though it may sound, it’s always been shtick to me. Catching a live performance eventually convinced me of his inner fire, which opened me up to this meeting with famed Greek contralto Maria Farantouri, in which jazz propulsion meets Baltic tradition. Lloyd’s airy tone and Farantouri’s dusky intonations are obviously main attractions, but give it up for Jason Moran, who may pull off the singular coup of displacing Keith Jarrett as Lloyd’s most memorable keyboard accompanist.


Bush, The Sea Of Memories

In which the most defiantly un-British UK band of the Britpop era returns with a dozen tastefully distorted failed anthems, tailor-made for Gold’s Gym ads or Jersey Shore interludes. Ten blissful years alongside Gwen Stefani’s bared midriff would seem to have made no artistic impact whatsoever on Gavin Rossdale, who remains as resolutely committed to simplifying Nirvana as he was in 1994. At least back then he was responding to an unfolding event.

Foreigner, Feels Like The First Time

A “Wal-Mart Exclusive” 2-disc set, the first featuring a “remastered” best-of, bringing the number of career overviews by these grizzled elders to eleven. The second disc is a newly recorded “unplugged” traipse through said back catalogue, featuring “new vocalist” Kelly Hansen, grandly entitled Acoustique. Circle Jerk might be more appropriate, although even with their barrels of cash, sounds like the fellas didn’t spring for the Levitra – not enough energy. Instead, they loll in beach chairs fondling chubbies through loose-fitting jeans.