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Published: 2003/09/28
by Jesse Jarnow

Holding the Bag- Bedouin, Civitas, Steve Cunningham, Django’s Cadillac, Eleven Eyes, Holstein, NamastThe Red Masque, Speakeasy, Lucky Tomblin Band

HOLDING THE BAG: September 2003

Book of Storms – Bedouin

Projecting Bedouin's lyrics out into a world, one is left with a tranquil
place unconcerned with everyday reality. Characters frequently seem to do
things like "get into my car and drive all night / And just feel alive"
("The Way We Used To Be") or seeing the "First sunlight of the day /
Reflected in the moon / About the time I drove away" ("First Light") or
"watching the skyline / Growing purple in the dark / I am watching the road
signs / I am following my heart" ("Borders"). You'd start to think that
getting into a car is a dangerous act, not 'cause of any potential wrecks,
but 'cause the weird weight of existence might suddenly come bearing down on
you on the freeway. The band's arrangements are low-key, fairly generic
shimmering folk-pop. It's all delivered with a self-deprecating grace that,
after a time, feels superficial, as another mellow melodrama unfolds from an
arpeggio. Oblique Strategies sez: "Accretion." More info…

Blue Stone – Civitas

I almost gagged when I opened this CD and saw some dudes with fiddles and
mandolins alongside an electric guitarist and rock rhythm section. I dunno
why I thought it would automatically equate to more funk-bluegrass, but I
did. And, for the first pair of tunes on the disc, Civitas proved me
(thankfully) horribly wrong. Instead of bluegrass rhythms topped with wanky
electric solos, they let the electric instruments fall back in the mix and
let the acoustic instruments up near the front. Instead of sounding like a
rock band with some folky instruments (as these things tend to come off),
they sounded like a more perfect balance. By the title track, though, the
wah-wah'ed guitar rolled in and I tuned out. The rest of the disc is a
precarious balance. When the acoustic instruments stay in the front, and the
electric instruments are used to fill 'em out, the band finds an original
voice. When they don't, they're just another band from… um, New Mexico.
Oblique Strategies sez: "What is the reality of the situation?" More info…

Dubious Tones – Steve Cunningham

Steve Cunningham is a versatile jazz instrumentalist and, on Dubious
Tones, he shows that off to good effect, jumping from electric guitar to
lap steel (and acoustic lap steel) and dobro. The tunes where he employs the
electric (solely, anyway), are kinda bland (as such, "BruddaBru" was
probably a poor choice for a disc opener), but once Cunningham gets into
slide territory, the pace picks up considerably. "Dubious Tones" (lap
steel), "Hemp" (acoustic lap steel), and "Sphere's Blues" (dobro) are all
wonderfully resonant excursions reminiscent of Bob Brozman's Hawaiian jazz
work with David Grisman on Tone Poems III. "The Creeping Man" blends
an electric guitar with an acoustic slide to a nice noirish effect. Every
now and again, Cunningham slips back into generica ("Backtalk"), but bats
well above .500. Oblique Strategies sez: "Do nothing for as long as
possible." More info…

self-titled – Django’s Cadillac

Mmmmm, yeah. This is nice: the first CD from the proverbial bag that I
haven't felt ashamed to play out loud with my housemates in earshot. Or
maybe I just wanna block out the atrocious daytime TV coming from the next
room. Either way, right now, it's playing Very Loudly. It's enjoyable as all
heck — lovely string band jazz, warmly recorded and lovingly played.
Clarinetist Dennis Williams makes the record, his rich timbre winding around
gently swinging acoustic rhythms. Django Reinhardt and Charlie Christian are
the influences here, oddly so much so that they become transparent and the
band ends up making plain out pretty music. It's accessible – no atonality,
or ponderous improvisations, safe to bring home to Mom – but utterly
charming and cool. Oblique Strategies sez: "Take a break." More info…

Depth Perception – Eleven Eyes

Eleven Eyes' debut, Depth Perception, presents ten cuts o' squiggly
dense hippie fusion from the Northwest. The band's lineup is a half-dozen
strong — guitar, bass, drums, a pair of horns, and turntables. Most
significantly, there seems to be no extra baggage. No bandmember is content
to play a supporting role in the group's improvisation. As such, melodies,
rhythms, and textures get tossed around with aplomb. It's all very busy
music – probably too much, in places – but they'll learn. Or maybe they
won't. It sounds pretty cool like this. Especially of note is their DJ, The
Turntable Enabler, whose rich work on the decks goes beyond what most of his
contemporaries in the genre have been doing. He combines a keen rhythmic
sense with good, solid samples (and the right amount of echo) to be able to
dance nicely between ambient textures and horn-like twirps. A great first
effort. Oblique Strategies sez: "Be extravagant." More info…

Dance of the Flatlander – Holstein

Naked people on the cover, yo. Yeah, it got me to pick up the CD. Inside,
the Kansaspudlians open with a few circular-patterned excursions. No naked
people, though. Throughout the first few numbers, cycling guitar parts build
atop one another (ala the end of "Bouncing Around The Room"), and movie
easily from Allman Brothers-like instrumental harmonies to epic Phish-style
constructions and back within a few minutes (on what may have once been
titled "Fuck The Earth," though "Fuck" looks like it's been blacked out with
a marker on my copy). Either way, the song mutates appealingly from section
to section. Likewise, the sudden, brief acceleration from multi-section
quietude to slow thrash (with a quasi-bass solo right before the second
build) on "Kermit's Lullaby" suggest a band who've listened to a fait bit of
"You Enjoy Myself" in their day: short attention span theater for bliss
ninnies. Oblique Strategies sez: "Consider different fading systems." More info…

Catalyst – NamastIt's good to see that the hippie aesthetic hasn't entirely disappeared, so
we still get bands with names like "Namast#34; and musical philosophies to
match. The music on Catalyst borders on a notion of sublime
enlightenment, though rarely reaches the fragility needed to evoke that
feeling. "Song No. Eleven" zips just a little too brightly from its reggae
moorings, despite a cool horn arrangement. Likewise, the gentle "Lake Song"
skirts the edge of an emotional freeze-out, before giving in to the usual
trappings of rock (like those bloody fucking chimes; grrrrr). Like
many young bands, their main problem is with speed. And, well, wah-wah
pedal. Way too much wah-wah pedal. As an effect, the wah has gone far beyond
any meaning, and – at this point – only triggers what wah-wah pedals are
supposed to signify: "Oooh, funky!" The problem is, it's not. Ah, well.
Namastave their heads in the right place – the clouds – but their bodies
remain on terra firma. Oblique Strategies sez: "What mistakes did you make
last time?" More info…

Victoria and the Haruspex – The Red Masque

This is a strange one. The basic working notion is ambience, and the disc
stays essentially quiet through its four-song, 50-minute duration. Even
though the levels stay down, though, the disc moves into some pretty heady
territory (in the original, non-crunchy sense of the word). Driven by prog
flourishes, somehow, the band manages to work thrash, brash synthesizers,
melodramatic vocals, Quaalude thunder drums, and the like into an
atmospheric blend. The results are usually a little chunky (some literally
sound like "Jazz Odyssey" by Spinal Tap) but, to their credit, it's almost
always surprising. The whole affair has a vaguely theatrical bent, such as
the melodramatic vocals on "Birdbrain," which both serves to focus the
explorations and (unintentionally) keep them from being taken too seriously.
Oblique Strategies sez: "Get your neck massaged." More info…

Cut of the Jib – Speakeasy

On Cut of the Jib, Speakeasy delivers with 13 slabs o' Midwestern
jam-pop. Pleasant harmonies top pleasantly songs (pleasantly produced).
There's a good eye for detail throughout, with fresh-sounding mixes bringing
bursts of guitars (above and beyond their default strums), swelling
keyboards, and happily non-funked horns. The band seems to be shooting for
pop grace, and almost find it, save for a predilection towards sudden tempo
changes and stompboxes. The song's rhythms all fall under the quasi-groove
header, though predominant songwriter Shawn Eckels finds inventive melodic
turns. Still, they're genre pieces. Not life-altering, but certainly not
life-sucking. Oblique Strategies sez: "What are you really thinking about
just now?" More info…

self-titled – Lucky Tomblin Band

The Lucky Tomblin Band's self-titled LP is carried by slightly watered-down
Texas swing. The disc's first few tracks roll with the same swampy hot jazz
that drove Bob Dylan's Love and Theft, though everything is just a
little too clean. Real or not, Earl Poole Ball's piano sounds like a thin
keyboard in the mix. (Is that his real name?) Likewise, Cindy
Cashdollar's steel guitars glisten just a little too much. (Okay, guess they
aren't their real names.) But the music is nice. The lyrics are filled with
the usual nuggets o' down home wit ("It could be 100 degrees and you'd be
sitting in the shade"), but also a solid dry humor ("I'm a foreign country,
specifically France"). Kinda okay. Oblique Strategies sez: "Disciplined
self-indulgence." More info: The Texas World Records, 210 Barton Springs
Road, Suite 500, Austin, TX 78704.

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