Music Review

Best World Music of 2008

Mekurya_DVD1. Gétatchèw Mèkurya and the Ex: Gétatchèw Mèkurya and the Ex & Guests (Ethiosonic)

This DVD was by far my favorite release this year. Venerable Dutch post-punk experimentalists teamed up with Ethiopian sax innovator Gétatchèw Mèkurya for a mind-bending, improvisatory take on modal Ethiopian pop from the ‘70s with a bracing dose of buzzsaw guitars and other skronky treats. The same lineup came to NYC this summer and was my personal concert-going highlight of the year. Read more »

A Queer Hippy Christ

Steven_GrossmanSteven Grossman: Caravan Tonight (Mercury)

"It ain't what you do but the way that you do it" is a perfect adage for the brief career of Steven Grossman, who didn't do very much except make an album called Caravan Tonight. It didn't shift in unit-crunching amounts, although Stephen Holden of Rolling Stone hailed it as "one of the most auspicious singer-songwriter debuts of the '70s." What makes Grossman unusual was his brave honesty. He was the first openly gay artist signed to a major label, although the more contentious Jobriath was first to release an album. Read more »

The Jailing of Sister George

boy-georgeThere always was something terribly disingenuous about Boy George. A trannie for grannies and little girls, he was like a Japanese rag doll, cute and safe, all ribbons and bows. The glorious shock waves that greeted his early '80s debut on Top of the Pops now seems quaintly bizarre. What was that? A boy or a girl? Suddenly a member of London's club land underworld was in the living rooms of Britain. The china rattled, and respectable people expressed a genuine horror.

The level of success that fell his way was enormous. The pressure of fame came quickly. Global and unrelenting, it was all too much, and much too soon. His image was on everything from magazine covers to pencil cases. Heroin addiction followed, and his first major fall from grace. He returned with a successful solo career, then re-invented himself as a DJ when the second wave of hits dried up. Read more »

Inauguration Music

obama_cowbellThe music of Obama's inauguration, mostly from the concert at the Lincoln Memorial two nights earlier, is hardly as important as the event it was decorating, but certain aspects of it fascinated me. I decided to mix up text and video in an overview moving from best to worst.

Pete Seeger, Tao Rodri­guez, Bruce Springsteen, choir - "This Land Is Your Land"

The finale of the inaugural concert as introduced by Bruce (who accompanied on acoustic guitar and occasionally added harmony vocals): "The greatest song ever written about our home." Pete's voice is not what it used to be -- after all, the man is going to turn 90 years old on May 3 -- but his grandson Tao Rodri­guez's powerful voice carried the words just fine. And they included political verses often omitted, which reminded us that the whole song is political, and repeatedly enjoined the whole audience to sing along, because it's their song, too. Read more »

Not a Manson, Nor a Monroe, But a Marilyn Still

MarilynMarilyn: Despite Straights Lines: The Very Best of Marilyn (Cherry Red)

Fame spreads like a virus. Just as Boy George was popping eyes and turning heads with Culture Club, the record companies and their minions were eager to sign any of his squat-dwelling partners in gender crime. Marilyn was Blanche to the Boy's Baby Jane. His iconic appearance in the Eurythmics' "Who's That Girl?" video proved an alluring one. This was a pretty boy who looked like a dead screen siren, who amped the whole arena of gender expectations. Read more »

The Great Promise of Nothing...

Luke_Toms_Forever_HouseLuke Toms: The Forever House (Island Records)

They had to come. It would have been churlish not to in the wake of Saint Rufus of Wainwright, that stream of fey young things attempting to out-Chatterton the rest. Languid and weary beyond their tender, tortured years, a straggling band of immaculate consumptives, cascading around us like broken butterflies, wonderfully attired travelers who believe in more romantic times than these.

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Freddie Hubbard R.I.P.

freddie-hubbard.jpgFreddie Hubbard just didn't have all the luck in the world. He even had the misfortune of dying at the wrong time, just between Christmas and New Year's, on December 29th 2008. But that shouldn't silence the fact that when Hubbard was on, he was a barn-burning trumpeter who deserves to be in the top five of all time, if not higher.

Always young and feisty in appearance, with a pugnacious quality that did not win friends and influence people, Hubbard made a splash as a sideman with Herbie Hancock and as a mainstay of the early Blue Note hard bop and post-bop forces of the early '60s. As rock was making its presence felt, Hubbard's ferocious technique combined with daring, innovative rhythm and phrasing to etch some of the most blistering solos ever put down. Right up there with Louis's Hot Fives. Read more »

The Gypsy Revolution!

gogol-bordello.jpgGogol Bordello at Webster Hall 12/29/08

Gogol Bordello is one of the most exciting bands currently catching the consciousness of the music world, and their most recent series of shows at Webster Hall solidified that status as these gypsy punks shouted their energetic message evoking the muses of song, theater, and humor.

Rock has always welcomed instruments of all kinds to join in the fray, but with the understanding that the guitars will take the lead. Bordello breaks with this tradition, choosing violin and accordion for its generals while guitars support from the rear. Read more »

Best New Avant-Jazz Albums of 2008

Braxton_Graves_ParkerHaving felt like my exposure to avant-jazz was insufficient in 2008, the first person I thought of to help me catch up was Bruce at Downtown Music Gallery. There is not a more important record store in New York City (or possibly the world) for the kind of music I love the most. Heck, I work at a record store but I still shop at DMG (and 40% of Bruce's picks aren't even on iTunes). And then I thought, why not give our readers his unadulterated opinions? So here, in alphabetical order, is Bruce's top 10 of 2008 with his comments. Read more »

A Girl Before Winter

claire-hamill-octoberClaire Hamill: October (Island Records)

Claire Hamill was a direct contemporary and label-mate of the late, but increasingly mythical, Nick Drake. Her second solo outing, October, proved her the mistress of tender bedsitter missives that still can haunt the heart. Fans of confessional songwriting should value and explore this neglected selection of artistry and craft that has stood the test of many passing seasons. Read more »

Best New Rock and Electronic Albums of 2008

I have already written about most of my favorite rock and electronic albums of 2008 either for CultureCatch or Bigtakeover.com. So, just like last year, I let the music speak for itself (where possible).

1. Getachew Mekuria & The Ex: Moa Anbessa (Terp)

Legendary Ethiopian saxophonist teams with notorious Dutch punk band of expanding interests. Not only is the album great, their brief U.S. tour was the highlight of the year. Read more »

Jennifer O'Connor's Heartrendingly Stoic Songs

Here_with_MeJennifer O'Connor: Here with Me (Matador)

There are thousands of whiny emokids complaining -- or perhaps boasting -- in song about how they can't find love because nobody understands them, nobody feels their pain, nobody even feels pain as intensely as they do. They don't know shit about pain. They should all be locked in their rooms and made to listen to Jennifer O'Connor; it should be decreed that their creative efforts will not be issued until they pack at least a tenth of the power of O'Connor's stoic songs. O'Connor is our great poet of loss, and next to her all-enveloping, richly textured music and profoundly moving lyrics, their shallow songs are as but the buzzing of small, annoying insects. Read more »

Now & Then, Then As Now

sound-of-the-smithsThe Smiths: The Sound of the Smiths (Deluxe Edition) (Warner Bros.)

Had Morrissey taken a vow of silence, and Marr left his guitar in a battered, stickered case, the legacy of the Smiths would stand secure. The Lennon and McCartney of indie rock created an almost divine catalog of songs, a soundtrack for the lives of others, a perfect collision of hope and sorrow. This timely compilation acts as a perfect reminder of the glories flown, and will likely convert certain stragglers from among the uninitiated. The Smiths already are a generation distant. Read more »

ANNIVERSARIES: Minute by Minute Released 30 Years Ago

Minute_by_MinuteIt might be hard to believe nowadays, when (not counting the occasionally hip-hop aberration) major record labels consider December a dumping ground for failed projects, but thirty years ago good albums by top-tier artists used to be released mere weeks before Christmas. Take Minute by Minute, for example. The Doobie Brothers had had ten Top 40 singles in the five years before it was released in December 1978, so they were certainly stars. And its release date was no commercial handicap: Not only did it hold the No. 1 album slot for six consecutive weeks and sell over three million copies, it spawned three Top 25 singles: "What a Fool Believes" (#1), the title track (#14), and "Dependin' on You" (#25), and the Doobies cleaned up at the 1980 Grammy Awards with four trophies. Read more »

Eclectic Harmonica Blues from Canada

Paul_Reddick_Sugar_BirdPaul Reddick: Sugar Bird (northernblues) High praise was awarded for Reddick's previous outings. The "hard blues for modern times" themed Rattlebag (2001) with his band The Sidemen featured muscular arrangements with relentless guitars and Reddick's powerful amplified harmonica style. The music steered clear of cliches, with Reddick's intensely poetic lyrics creating sort of a thinking person's ZZ Top quality.

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