School's in session, summer is officially over, and I've got another stack of CDs and DVDs balanced precariously on the corner of my desk that will crush me when it's accidentally tipped.
Something's been bothering me this past week: Bob Dylan is one of my favorite singer/songwriters -- I own nearly 90% of his catalogue -- but is Modern Times really a Rolling Stone (and other periodicals) 5-star worthy CD? I dig his elder statesman roots-rock/Americana vibe, the production and mix are top-notch, his band is one of the best touring bands he's ever assembled, and his singing and playing are inspired, but the songs?
I can't help but think from the gushing reviews many critics so cavalierly awarded Bob's new disc that one could easily surmise Blonde on Blonde or Blood on the Tracks must be 10- or 20-star worthy albums. I'm not saying Bob's new record is lame, but is today's music so memorable-melody strained that something that would have garnered a 3- to 3.5-star album review twenty years ago gets 5 stars today? Hell, I think Street Legal and Empire Burlesque -- both 3-star reviews awarded by Rolling Stone (The Rolling Stone Album Guide, 1992) -- have better songs, track for track, than Modern Times, but then again, these are modern times.
One more quick observation before I bore you with more of my music rant. Forget wasting your ducats on the lame Hollywood regurgitated and unnecessary remake of The Wicker Man with Nicholas Cage. Order the recently re-released original from 1973 on DVD (Anchor Bay) with Christopher Lee, Edward Woodward, and the-once-Mrs. Peter Seller's sexpot Britt Ekland. This modern day pagan ritual horror classic was written by Anthony Shaffer (Sleuth) and is much scarier, tackier, and with a hipper soundtrack.
And rush to see Borat Sagdiyev's debut film Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan while the President of Kazakhstan tries to convince President Bush to block the distribution of this hilarious take on the naivety of Americans by the comedic genius of UK-based Sacha Baron Cohen. How he keeps from exploding with laughter during his pranks is beyond me. Jagshemash!
And while I count the days down until Halloween, I've managed to find some music to help me deal with this isolated task. So take notice and buy some new music -- digitally or organically (at a CD store, remember them?).
Sex Slaves Bite Your Tongue (Radical Records)
Rock photog Bob Gruen tipped me to this NYC-power pop punk rock trio, Lemmy of Motorhead is a huge fan, and so shall you be. If you miss the crunch and punch of Slade, the sing-along fun of Sweet, and the hedonistic street stance of the New York Dolls, then drop the laser beam on this at your next party. Killer cross-country live shows and a huge myspace community have made them a growing indie fav.
How To Grow A Woman From the Ground (Sugar Hill) On hiatus from his stellar bluegrass trio Nickel Creek, this mandolin virtuoso has really grown into his own person. His songwriting's stronger while his young, gifted musical accompanists seem to inspire each other to reach new levels of musical magic on semi-known covers and new instrumental classics. This plays like a modern day back porch throw down and was certainly aided by capturing the dynamics on two vintage Telefunken microphones.
Espers II (Drag City)
I've been extolling their virtues for the past two years. The second long player of psych-tinged English folk-rock from this Philly sextet pushes their sound out even further. That could have be a train wreck for most American bands posing as damaged art school sensitive filigree rockers, but not this outfit. Reminds me of the Cocteau Twins on mushrooms with super furry balls.
Candi Stanton His Hands (Astralwerks)
I'm so happy that an old school talent like Ms. Stanton lets her singing do the talking. No needless trilling and vocal gymnastics that plague most, if not all of, contemporary R&B. With retrofitted grooves and killer tunes you might mistake it for a lost Southern soul classic from the early 70s. All lovingly produced by Mark Nevers of Lambchop.
Ljova Vjola: World On Four Strings (Kapustnik)
More than a classically trained arranger, composer, and violist, Lev Ljova Zhurbin is a folk musician using classical means to define his Eastern European roots. This is wonderfully romantic and at times whimsical chamber folk music played with verve and skill. Sounds intimidating but it really sweeps you away.
Humble Pie The Definitive Collection (A&M/Universal)
Guitarist/vocalist Steve Marriot was an original Small Faces founder. Here's an ample overview of his next vehicle, the blues-soaked, rock-hard boogie band featuring Peter Frampton pre-solo mega stardom Frampton Sells Out er, Comes Alive. They were an vital live band some 30 years ago and "30 Days In the Holeâ" remains my favorite drug song ever committed to vinyl.
Slumber Party Musik (Kill Rock Stars)
I hate to say the Velvet's seem to be the obvious influence, but they are and thankfully not the final destination for these psychedelic sisters from Detroit. Beautiful synth blips and droning underpin the simple, hypnotic guitar-driven melodies. Set your controls for the heart of Motown via the Autobahn.
Harri Stojka A Tribute to Gypsy Swing (Zoho)
Fusion Gypsy? Like some madcap John McLaughlin channeling Django, Harri shreds with agility while he swings with his marvelous sidemen while paying homage to chestnuts from another century. Even manages to offer up a fresh take on Django's "Limehouse Blues."
Converge is the Word.
Dusty Mr. Wright is the former editor-in-chief of Creem and Prince's New Power Generation magazines as well as a writer of films, fiction, and music. He is also a singer/songwriter who has released 3 solo CDs and a member of the folk-rock quartet GIANTfingers. And before all of this he was an agent at the William Morris Agency!