By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
He fearlessly tackles Holiday's "Strange Fruit," a tune that most song stylists (at least those with any sense) wisely shy away from. His band, notably pianist Spencer Cozens, expertly follows his every mood. Using percolating guitar and keyboard lines, he turns Dead Can Dance's "How Fortunate the Man With None" into a bluesy trance. And by the time he's done with Bobby Charles and Rick Danko's "Small Town Talk," it sounds like an outtake from One World or Grace and Danger. His narcotic take on Elmore James' well-worn blues "The Sky Is Crying" is stunning: Slowed down until it nearly floats into space, the tune is transformed into a druggy tour de force for Martyn's voice. Fittingly - Martyn is never far from gallows humor - the disc closes (save for the hidden track, a more straight-ahead mix of DCD's "How Fortunate") with a downright spooky version of Rev. Gary Davis' "Death Don't Have No Mercy."
If nothing else, this is a testament to the power of Martyn's singular "voice." As he recently put it, "Whether you're playing the oboe or the tambourine or a box of matches and a whistle, if you're strong enough about it, you're still going to sound like you." (Michael Lipton)
Two Pages (Reinforced/Talking Loud)
The newest offering from Dego and Mark Mac - the prolific Reinforced producers who run under the ID "4 Hero" - Two Pages could just as well be called "many styles to make you wow." From fast-paced, fully orchestrated D&B to down-tempo electro-soul and hard head-butts that configure into still melodic pools, building till the thunder of bass and kicks strikes, the two discs ("pages") or eight sides ("chapters") of vinyl give the listener the entire spectrum of jungle, hip-hop, folk, blues and roots. The album is divided into the organic and the tech, sparing listeners the pain of stretching to hear the two distinctly different styles side by side.
Page 1 finds Luke Parkhouse drumming his heart away with live harps, violins, cellos, Moogs, guitars and reeds layered over him, as the 4 Hero vision is realized. Shining in front from these first chapters are luminous "star chasers," featuring the gracefully leaping vocals of Face and the tremendous soul climb of the instrumental "Spirits in Transit." Included from the now-classic EP Earth Pioneers are Ursula Rucker's tale of Mother Earth's children turning from loving to "Loveless," as well as "Planetaria (A Theme From a Dream)."
Page 2 offers mystic sci-fi sonics pulled from recall files of space travel, out-of-body and in-craft. "We Who Are Not as Others," "Humans," "Greys" - it's a pattern? All the beings that they compose for are given a different flavor, from the old-school funk-tech of Mantronix or Afrika Bam (Kraftwerk really) to a future electric that sounds like "think different."
This truly is a triumph, and I'm not even mentioning the treats for those without a sense of ear. The cover and insider art is incredible. Mm, mm, mm! (Carlos Nino)
SQUIRREL NUT ZIPPERS
Perennial Favorites (Mammoth)
Just like how the Kingston Trio's folk-revival-era forays into Hawaiian ukulele and Irish-jig rhythms actually rocked harder than a lot of early-'60s teen rock & roll, the best products of the current post-alt-rock jazz-dance-combo revival are way catchier and more energetic than anything you'll ever hear by, say, Semisonic or Dave Matthews. But where Royal Crown Revue and Cherry Poppin' Daddies at least seem to have some clue about how hard rock's aggression changed the way blues-based music can feel, eclectic Chapel Hill nostalgics the Squirrel Nut Zippers are a more creepily complete retreat from the present. On their third album, Perennial Favorites, even protest attempts like "Suits Are Picking Up the Bill" and "Fat Cat Keeps Getting Fatter" convey a quaint gentility diametrically opposite both numbers' Great Depression razzing-the-rich lyrics.
Their Prairie Home Companion stodginess suggests these period-piece addicts expect to be taken more seriously than the popularizers of, say, "Winchester Cathedral" or "Puttin' on the Ritz" ever were. And maybe they deserve to be - the Zippers pull off all sorts of different pre-World War II rhythms, not just the Dixieland revelry that dominates their new CD as much as previous ones. "Trou Macacq" is a determinism-obsessed sequel to last year's damnation-calypso novelty hit "Hell," "Ghost of Stephen Foster" a whirling-dervish klezmer based on "Camptown Races." We're lucky somebody in the late '90s has such a syncopative sense of 78-rpm history. We'd just be luckier if it was somebody who also knew a thing or two about the Sex Pistols and Donna Summer. (Chuck Eddy)