Friday, May 30, 2008

Let Me Ride

Yup, we here at the Mountain will be taking a little trip to our old college stomping grounds in Columbus, Ohio at the end of June for a little concert by Mr. Tom Waits. Yup, we managed to score tickets, so no whining on this end. 'Course this'll be our third time seeing the man in the last 10 years. Is there no length we'll go to for Mr. Waits? We think not. We're a little special that way. Anybody in/going to Columbus?

Anyhow, today we're gonna take a little trip down Delta way.

Little Axe is, essentially, a feller you might have heard about what goes by the name of Skip McDonald. If that name doesn't ring any bells, McDonald has been, and in some cases continues to be, a member of Tackhead and the On U Sound collective with Adrian Sherwood. Oh, and he also figured as a house musician in the Sugar Hill Records label, playing on such platters as "The Message" by Grandmaster Flash.

A pretty heady resume, sure, but what does that have to do with this little site?

Before y'all go wanderin' elsewhere, let me say that Mr. McDonald has got quite a bit of the Mississippi Blues inside of him, and as Little Axe, he takes us straight to the jukejoints, revival meetings, back porches, bbq's, and plowed acres of the deep South.

It's hypnotic, old-as-the-Mississippi hills music, with dub rhythms slinking about like sweaty, dirt-floor dancers, samples of preachers and vagrant farmers fading in and out with a heavenly southern gospel choir. Charred t-bone bass and deep rusted guitar drone ground the proceedings in the river-washed dirt, while McDonald's voice, and those of his guest vocalists, swirl around, stained but triumphant, vice and god meeting at the crossroads.

"Let Me Ride", in particular, is a culmination of McDonald's aesthetic. A perfect 3-minute slice of glory that'll swirl through your head like a dream, pushing you to the end of days.

The following songs were taken from the albums "Stone Cold Ohio", "Hard Grind", and "Champagne and Grits".

Little Axe: Let Me Ride (mp3)

Little Axe: Pray (mp3)

Little Axe: Tight Like That (mp3)

Little Axe: All In The Same Boat (mp3)

Little Axe: All Night Party (mp3)

Please support your local, independent rekkid stores. Buy vinyl if at all possible.

Friday, May 16, 2008

American Hearts

Barstool Mountain is back up and running, with two posts already this week! Check it out, my friends.

We're a couple of hours away from Tom Waits tickets going on sale. Wish us luck. If we fail to procure our tix, you're gonna have to put with a bit of whining and begging in our next post (whenever that is).

Now that that's out of the way, I'd like to tug on yr coat a bit about another new record that we think is pretty darn swell. I know it's unusual for us to cover newer records in any extended capacity, and we'll return you to yr regularly scheduled "old-timey" stuff shortly. But with the positive reaction we got from the Hayes Carll post recently, we figgered y'all might be able to tolerate another new feller we think is pretty keen.

A.A. Bondy used to be in a grungy kinda band call Verbena which, frankly I never had much use for. So, imagine my surprise when I picked up Bondy's solo record, "American Hearts" and found a classic back porch record that reminds me, eerily, of Townes Van Zandt's early records.

The first thing you notice about the record is its intimacy. The recording is barely, production-wise, a step above Palace's "Days In The Wake", and you keep expecting to hear a passing car or crickets in the background. That's a good thing. Sure, it's filled with snare, piano/organ, and pedal steel, but done in such an understated way as to render the proceedings close. You are there, sitting on the steps to the porch, lit by fireflies, watching with wonder. It's an album rooted in an older, forgotten time.

Bondy's voice has a weariness, a whiskey and nicotine timbre, that pulls you in, invites you to stay the night and dance the slow waltz of the moonlight.

"There's A Reason" is a moment of pure beauty and in the heart of sadness. A lament of of hope and remembrance, a sepia-toned ode to the beating of the heart, a valedictory on the space between the possible and the dreamt.

Another "must-have" album this year, so far as we at the Mountain are concerned. Have I ever led you astray?

Enjoy. Mp3 files at the bottom.

And I gave my hand to the Fates
And they took me around
They showed me the Seven Wonders
The sights and the sounds

There was a man with cinders for eyes
There was a girl with a dress made of flies
And there's a reason
There's a reason

And it's love that's tearing them down
And it's love that turns them around
Say it is so

And the barroom is filled with the joy
Of making old friends
And jukebox girls trip the light
They wiggle and they bend

Blind Joe, he's feeling no pain
Sweet Georgia, she dreams of the rain
And there's a reason
There's a reason

And it's love that's tearing them down
And it's love that will turn them around
Say it is so

When the moon follows you where you go
And you cannot hide
And when voices of doom ring your ears
And horsemen do ride

May tomorrow the land be anew
May every bird sing unto you
That's the reason
That's the reason

That the love that's tearing you down
Is the love that will turn you around
That the love that's tearing you down
Is the love that will turn you around

Say it is so

A.A. Bondy: There's A Reason (mp3)

A.A. Bondy: Vice Rag (mp3)

A.A. Bondy: Rapture (Sweet Rapture) (mp3)

Please support your local, independent record stores. Fuck the Big Box stores.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Trouble In Mind

Tom Waits is touring!!!

Actual post about one of favorite records of the year to follow the following rant.

But first, we're gonna start off today's post with a word of caution...which will lead, roundabout, into today's musical guest.

'Spect some of y'all have heard the long-simmering news that formerly interesting actress Scarlett Johansson was making an album of Tom Waits songs. Yep, hard to believe, I know. Well, the album is scheduled to drop next month. And lucky for us, they've begun streaming a few of the tunes 'round about the Internet (do a Google search, I'm not going to link it here). And the full album has leaked and fallen into the hands of this here intrepid blogger-person. We listened to it so you don't have to. Seriously.

Ms. Johansson's record, which I believe is called "Anywhere I Lay My Head", is one the vilest steaming piles of horseshit we have ever heard. Granted, covering Mr. Waits has to be a difficult chore for even the most gifted of musicians. Some have failed miserably (The Eagles, Rod Stewart, Norah Jones, and Diana Krall leap to mind immediately as artists who have stripped his music of any soul). Some have actually taken Waits' songs and made then transcendent (Springsteen can claim, fairly, "Jersey Girl" as his own and The Ramones did very well by grabbing "I Don't Want To Grow Up" and transforming it into a 3-chord punk wonder). But what Johansson does to the Waits library is beyond the pale. Imagine, if you will, the lead "singer" of The Shaggs running headlong into Nico at her most smacked-up, and then imagine something worse. Johansson has about a 1-2 note range and "sings" precisely on the beat. The musical backing is the equivalent of Yani's band meeting up with some teenage goth group. David Bowie shows up a few times on backing vocals and adds nothing but more misery to the proceedings (Tin Machine, anyone?). Pick on Waits all you want about his vocal stylings, but you'd have to admit the man adds an emotional and soulful complexity to his delivery, with an ear for sound that outstrips the casual commercial act looking to score a pop hit. Ms. Johansson and her collaborators possess none of these qualities. One would be hard-pressed to find anything remotely approaching musicianship or interpretive skill whatsoever on this forthcoming "tribute" album. The biggest sin of the record, to be honest, is that it is bland. Horribly, indescribably...bland. And considering the subject being covered, that may be the worst sin of all.

And, seriously, I don't know who the audience for this is. Even if you're not a Tom Waits fan, this is not a good record. I can't imagine the TRL crowd suddenly being converted. Can you imagine a 14-year old Justin Timberlake fan going out and picking up a Waits album based on this? The results would be hilarious to witness. And Waits fans would...well...look at my reaction. Worst album, not of the year, but of the decade. Do not buy this. You've been warned. Vile tripe.

End of Rant.

Now then, I feel bad for Hayes Carll for having to follow that rant. Cuz Carll has released one of the best albums of the year, and I'm calling it early. Oh, and he covers a Tom Waits song. Correctly.

On his record "Trouble In Mind", Carll has dropped the best modern Country album we've heard since James Hand's "The Truth Will Set You Free". Yep.

Carll's voice is the even ground between early Steve Earle nasality and James McMurtry's desert-scorched ramble, drunkenly close to alt-country affectation, but he's a Texas boy, so we'll give him the benefit of the doubt. There's something in the water in Texas (oil?) that produces brilliant songwriters with a back-porch pick and an everyman drawl. Carll is the next in line.

The first thing you notice about Carll's songs on "Trouble In Mind" is their sense of place...the wide open spaces claustrophobied into those little towns you see on exit ramp signs. The places you'd never go, but someone comes from, with escape in mind. And heading for...the next exit ramp, maybe. Drunk and disorderly, with lost love in mind and fingers clutching the stick shift on a truck that aint been paid for yet. As a matter of fact, their whole lives are shot through with IOU's, desperate for the payoff at the end of the day, or the break of morning.

Carll delivers these Carver-esque slices through a Western veneer of fiddle, pedal steel, and grit, the long drive to the roadhouse carried bleary-eyed by the promise of a cold one, a hoedown, and a honky tonk woman.

The reason the Tom Waits cover ("I Don't Want To Grow Up", linked below) works so well in Carll's hands it that he transforms the song. Putting his own spin on the tune, Carll turns it into a hoedown, a defiant two-stepper, a smart spin on Waits' original rave-up, but infusing it with a lonesome defiance amidst the stomping boots. Well done, and a smart contrast to the soulless fare we've been inundated with in recent years.

"Trouble In Mind" is an early front runner in the contest for The Mountain's Best Album of the Year. It receives our highest accolades, and is highly recommended for all regular readers 'round these parts.

Hayes Carll: Beaumont (mp3)

Hayes Carll: Drunken Poet's Dream (mp3)

Hayes Carll: I Don't Want To Grow Up (mp3)

Record players are better than CD players. It's the way the good lord intended. Just sayin'.