Thursday, March 09, 2006

more cowbell

I went on a musical binge last week, and caught up with some things I'd wanted to get. Mostly catch-up of not-so-new stuff...

Johnny Cash -- At Folsom Prison: I've heard the highlights before, but the show in it's entirety is incredible. Cash is warm, funny and engaging with inmates in a Caifornia prison known for being a very hard place to do hard time. Periodic interruptions from a prison official to call inmates to see visitors remind the listener where the show is taking place. The set is full of songs about men who are in prison or should be, and Cash is often laughing in the middle of these very somber stories, probably as reaction to how his audience is responding to him putting their own experiences to song. It's especially jarring in "25 Minutes To Go", a run-down of a condemned man's last half-hour, including his watching the gallows being tested and his last meal of beans.

Wilco -- Kicking Television: Live in Chicago: Wilco have become the latest band, to me anyway, to have inherited the old Clash designation as the only band that matters. Jeff Tweedy's moved from being a No Depression hero to a pop experimentalist. I've always been impressed with his willingness to take chances, to take his songcraft beyond the alt-country scene and mix some Stax-Volt soul, Beatle-esque pop and Brian Wilson-like imagination. Kicking Television documents a few live shows taped in Chicago, and captures the band pushing the songs in all directions. To see them at work, put the film I Am Trying to Break Your Heart in your Netflix queue. While not as riveting as the Metallica documentary Some Kind of Monster, it's worth a watch if you're a fan.

The Strokes -- First Impressions of Earth: An improvement from the last record, and a slight departure in sound. Gone is the distortion on the vocals, and in fact they're farther up in the mix this time, perhaps owing to Julian Casablancas finding out that he can actually sing (though it's a bit hard to take him seriously when he sings in his trust-fund baby world-weary voice that "I don't want to be judgemental"). They're not afraid to try different things, moving away from merely trying to repeat themselves and actually taking their sound and doing something new with it. From having seen them live a few years back I realized that drummer Fabrizio Moretti and Albert Hammond Jr. were the musical heart and soul of the band -- the best players, and the focal point for the songs. But on this record, bassist Nikolai Fraiture takes a great leap forward. His playing is very inventive, driving the songs like he hadn't before.

Belle & Sebastian -- The Life Pursuit: A while back, my friend Kieran tried to get me into Belle and Sebastian, but for whatever reason, it didn't take. A bit too fey for my tastes I guess, but I could recognize that there were some good songs there. The Life Pursuit has a fuller sound than previous B&S, and (to me, anyway) better suits the songs. Have only spun through it once, so need more time, but it's quite a good pop record. One listen to "Another Sunny Day" and it'll be stuck in your head for days.

Still to be listened to...

Ryan Adams & The Cardinals -- Jacksonville City Nights
Franz Ferdinand -- You Could Have It So Much Better
Sigur Rós -- Takk...

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