If 2009 were to yield a list of its strangest LPs, I, for one, would nominate the aptly named Life with a Slow Ear for at least an honorable mention. Not that its ragged, homespun ruminations offer anything especially unusual in and of itself; heading up the country and getting back to the roots is a popular path these days, especially for musicians who hunger for a respite from a daily diet of scorching guitars, amplifiers turned up to the max and rhythmic onslaughts that could replicate a small tsunami.
The surprise then isn’t that Taylor Hollingsworth follows suit. A journeyman musician, he spent time in the service of Conor Oberst’s Mystic Valley Band before upping both attitude and amplitude for his initial series of solo outings. However, now that he’s opted to unplug, the thing that separates him from his fellow rustic ramblers is – in a word – his vocals (That’s two words. -Ed.), a high-whining cornhusker of a drawl that suggests a cartoonish attempt at hillbilly authenticity. It undercuts any attempt to take these musings seriously, if for no other reason than it’s such a jolt every time he commands the microphone. While one could concede there’s some synchronicity in his chipmunk chatter and the twangy plunking of “I Didn’t Know It Was the Devil” and “Westfalia,” anytime the mood turns somewhat surreptitious – as in “96 Crayons” and the blustery boogie of “New Orleans Blues” – Hollingsworth actually sounds silly. Attempting to give some weight to “Sin City Blues” – which references both Gram Parsons and Dylan’s “Stuck Inside of Memphis with Those Memphis Blues Again” – Hollingsworth’s voice betrays him, even despite his obvious instrumental dexterity. So while Life with a Slow Ear Is otherwise an admirable effort, it’s a less than critical ear that’s required. (Team Love 2009)
Posted by Christopher Glotfelty (10/30/2009 @ 2:38 am)
I haven’t heard Jay-Z’s new album, The Blueprint 3, but I really like this single. Alicia Keys’ voice is just so powerful. The problem with most female pop singers is that they don’t sing from their their gut. Keys sings with a believable conviction that can simultaneously touch hearts and bring down buildings.
With his previous albums, Greg Laswell established his penchant for cinematic soundscapes, purveying a downcast disposition and a haunting, shrouded motif that provided spectral settings for his weary ruminations. Now, he’s taking a brief detour from his own musings via this enticing five-song EP, which retraces songs by Echo and the Bunnymen, Morphine, Mazzy Star, Kristen Hersh and Kate Bush — and, in some cases, actually bests the originals. These songs were somewhat gloomy to begin with, and Laswell makes no attempt to alleviate the mood. Even so, he manages to add a new dimension; by giving a shadowy and shimmering sheen to “Killing Moon,” a lurching yet assertive stance to Hersh’s “Your Ghost,” and buoying the tempo on “In Spite Of Me,” Laswell effectively puts his imprint on each. Likewise, “Take Everything” retains the laconic feel of Mazzy Star’s original, while transforming the song into a stately piano recital, and his take on “This Woman’s Work” strips the song of its harsh veneer and replaces Bush’s signature sensuality with an emphasis on its gentle soul. Ultimately, like every effort in his repertoire, Covers affirms that Laswell’s an original. (Vanguard 2009)
It ought to come as no surprise that a combo which has taken its cue from iconic Anglo folk music should carry those interests further – in this case, creating an album rich in Celtic and Baroque tradition. But in accepting a commission to pattern a soundtrack for the Public Theater’s production of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” Hem’s allowed their Elizabethan extremes to run rampant, augmenting their usual mellow musings with a contingent of pipes, flutes, whistles and orchestral flourishes all in keeping with the trappings of the period. Mostly instrumental, it gives vocal nods to a theatrically superior cast that includes Anne Hathaway and Raul Esparza, but it’s a relatively unknown David Pittu who proves best suited to singing the sonnets, especially on such traditionally-tied verses as “The Wind and the Rain,” “Hey Robin, Jolly Robin” and “I Am Gone, Sir.” As the titles suggest, this is neither rock, nu-folk nor any combination thereof, but rather a sound that owes its origins and inspiration to the Bard. Hem enthusiasts will likely note this as a momentary detour in anticipation of a band project due early next year. For their part, theater purists will probably appreciate the effort and admire its authenticity. (Nettwerk 2009)
In an era when pretenders to the R&B throne spring up like swine flu in the local emergency room, it only takes a glance back at Otis Redding’s career to remind us that no one has ever managed to recapture his electrifying, unfettered energy and passion. Like Sam Cooke, James Brown, Aretha, the Four Tops, the Tempts, Wilson Pickett and Solomon Burke, Otis was one of a kind: a man who relied not on gimmicks or false sentiment, but a genuine, explosive talent that took every song to the precipice between triumph and tragedy. From the stage at Monterrey to ballrooms across the nation and venues around the world, Otis proved he was the ultimate interpreter of gritty, sweat-stoked, heart-wrenching soul, a man whose fiery appeal transcended race or nationality, rock or R&B.
As with many other incendiary talents, Redding’s career was an abbreviated one, cut short in a tragic plane crash in December 1967 — mere months after he electrified a mostly white Monterey audience that had also witnessed Hendrix, Joplin, the Byrds and the Springfield. Ironically, his biggest breakthrough, the moving “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay,” wouldn’t even pierce the charts until after his demise. Still, the classics he left behind in a relatively short period earned him a permanent presence in the lexicon of great contemporary singers — one who is yet to be bested, and likely never will.
Shout/Rhino’s new two-disc compilation — boasting a CD of greatest hits and a DVD of live performances captured the year before Redding’s death — provides a brief summary of the man’s brilliance; a mere introduction at best. The numbers forever identified with Redding make the cut: “Dock of the Bay,” of course, “Respect,” “Try a Little Tenderness,” “I’ve been Loving You Too Long” — the better-known songs that defined Otis’ magnetism and his ability to adroitly shift from finesse to frenzy. Watching him drive himself with such exhilaration and determination, as seen on the video performances of “Shake” and “Satisfaction” (each included twice on the DVD for good measure), verifies the emotion he exuded each time he took the stage.
A singer for the ages, Otis had a talent that was eternal. In the face of such greatness, “brilliance” is an adjective that doesn’t even begin to suffice. Pick up this package, and you’ll quickly understand why. (Shout! Factory 2009)