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Reviews > CDs

Published: 2005/07/07
by Jesse Jarnow

Holding the Bag – Blue James Band, Michael Carlos, Foggy Bottom, Lowdogs, The Magic Bullets, No Use For Humans, Orachle Shack, Rift, Terry Luther’s Steam Boars, Uncle Billy’s Smokehouse

That’s That – Blue James Band
The latest addition to the rainbow of post-Dave Matthews acoustic-driven folk-jammers, California’s Blue James Band happily make completely serviceable, totally safe music on That’s That. Led by guitarist/songwriter Cliff Williams, the quartet is bright and chirpy. Williams’ acoustic picks chord circles Joe Willis’s amicable keyboards on tunes like ‘Same Person,’ which feel longer than its five minutes, while a vague Santana-like complexity informs the introduction to ‘Going Home.’ As the magnet for a coterie of friends and fans, they might be a powerful force, but do little (yet) to differentiate themselves from (and for) the national masses. Oblique Strategies sez: ‘Consult other sources — promising — unpromising.’ More info…
Yesterday’s Icons – Michael Carlos
A singer-songwriter in an age where singer-songwriters seem like woefully archaic relics, Michael Carlos’s Yesterday’s Icons succeeds against many odds. While the arrangement choices don’t separate Carlos much from the pack, his lyrics are packed with prose-like details of life in contemporary culture. Songs like ‘Armani Suits and Handcuffs’ — with lyrics like ‘There must have been some kind of mistake / Guys who wear suits don’t get taken away / In handcuffs and squad cars in the light of day’ — and the Spanish-influenced ‘Maria,’ Carlos might be sold as a reincarnation of the brutally observant Warren Zevon (minus, it would seem, the chemical self-destructiveness). When Carlos loosens up a little, he’ll be fantastic. Oblique Strategies sez: ‘Always first steps.’ More info…
Late Night Transistor – Foggy Bottom
While Foggy Bottom’s swampy country-folk is alluring on its own, their true achievement with Late Night Transistor is the creation of a distinct sound. In an age where the all-important blend of instruments is frequently lost to the hyper-clarity of ProTools, the Tennessee quartet manage to connect their musical dots with a genuine warmth that fit their interlocking lap steel, banjo, acoustic guitars, and even drums to a greater whole. Easygoing pick-outs like ‘Blues Baptismal’ sit side-by-side with more written-out instrumentals, such as the Rev. Jeff Mosier-abetted ‘Strange Ranger.’ Though the album melts into more generic rock statements as it progresses, such as ‘Monkey Wrench,’ Late Night Transistor pulls and pulls. Oblique Strategies sez: ‘What are you really thinking about just now?’ More info…
In the Tall Grass – Lowdogs
Recorded live at a pair of northeastern haunts, the Lowdogs appear in two forms on In the Tall Grass. The first, on the disc’s first five numbers, is a simple acoustic duo/electric bass duo of Kris Kehr and Chris Q. Q’s bass — fretless, it sounds like — gurgles smoothly beneath Kehr’s strumming. Kehr’s voice is pleasant enough, though the faux-Southern twang/growl he adapts occasionally — such as on a decent arrangement of Merle Haggard’s ‘Sing Me Back Home’ — seems somewhat affected. On the second half of the disc — anchored by a nearly 13-minute ‘To The Sea’ — the pair is joined by Max Creek members Scott Murawski and Greg Vasso on electric guitar and drums, respectively. The band’s sound doesn’t change too much, nor does it get too dramatic. Even with a trap kit behind them, they still basically sound like a pair of folkies — which is an achievement, I guess. The four play well together, which keeps their jamming listenable, if not overtly dramatic (at least, not ‘til the last minute or so of ‘To the Sea’). Oblique Strategies sez: ‘Convert a melodic element into a rhythmic element.’ More info…
Stop, Drop, and Roll – The Magic Bullets
From the weird cultural backwater of Florida comes The Magic Bullets, an Allmans-derived twin-guitar jam outfit that seems to have only recently discovered the virtues of MDMA. Coding at least half of the disc’s 10 tunes with thinly veiled references to ecstasy, the band’s melodies certainly retain a euphoric quality on numbers like "Lawns" and "Golden Sun." While somewhat infectious, it’s hard to throw one’s self fully into their music, knowing what (presumably) most people know about the dangers of using as much ecstasy as the Magic Bullets seem to. Or maybe they know something we don’t know. Either way, Stop, Drop, and Roll produces a fairly high level of tasteless discomfort. As they sing themselves on ‘End of the Night’: ‘drink lots of water / and everything will be okay / everything will be okay / because tomorrow is now today.’ And the dot-com crash is still next week. Oblique Strategies sez: ‘Balance the consistency principle with the inconsistency principle.’ More info…
Lesson From A Dying Breed – No Use For Humans
I’m not entirely sure where this No Use For Humans album came from — a CD-R and xeroxed liner art — but it’s really good. Really fucking good. The product (I suspect) of some mind-melded music geeks out in the wild suburbs somewhere, the eight studio tracks careen cinematically through bizarre melodic percussion, hip-hop, metal, and other sonic chicanery. A wholly engaging listen. No Use For Humans is the virtual definition of what it means to be adventurous, to abandon received wisdom (and musical traditions) and just get loose. Hell, even their live tracks are pretty spectacular, as they take on covers of demented composer Danny Elfman, minimalist hero Philip Glass, and populist soundtracker John Williams. Highly recommended. Oblique Strategies sez: ‘Infinitesimal gradations.’ More info…
...Into Skies Diving… – Oracle Shack
Idaho, eh? I’ve always heard strange things from that state, and Oracle Shack’s …Into Skies Diving… certainly counts as one of them. With a genuinely nebulous sound — except when they slip into jamband jazz — the eminently creative …Into Skies Diving… flows, one song into another, as sound collages blend into Springsteen(?!)-influenced numbers like ‘Gumshoe,’ steel drum excursions build into uptempo poppers (‘Capt. Bamo Vs. Tallboy’), and anthemic balladry (‘Pokerface’) sits next to dense drum-n-bass darkness (‘Faroh’). Occasionally, the jamming goes a touch too long (‘Whatevs.gov’) and the music gets sleepy. But, given their sense of atmosphere and collaboration, it’s quite forgivable. A promising and fertile effort. Oblique Strategies sez: ‘Turn it upside down.’ More info…
Push On Thru – Rift
Rift’s Push on Thru is a modest, unassuming string-band record. With their all acoustic two guitar/mandolin/upright bass format, Rift’s sound is firmly rooted in the bluegrass tradition, though their choice of material tends to the folkier side. Frontman Tony Williamson’s lyrics are filled with vague regret, never specific enough to be unique, but warm enough to be comforting. While his voice sometimes goes a little over the top with unnecessarily dramatic vibrato, it goes well with the decidedly non-flashy music made by his band. Pleasant to be sure. Oblique Strategies sez: ‘Trust in the you of now.’ More info…
self-titled – Terry Luther’s Steam Boars
Now, I love me some boars. In fact, I’d venture to say that I have a higher boar appreciation than most of the United States’ population. But I’m still not convinced that Terry Luther’s Steam Boars — whose logo reminds me, for some reason, of the Muppets’ Pigs in Space segments — have anything to do with (actual) boars. Which is too bad. The music — guitar-driven jazz-funk — is pleasant enough, with Luther’s six-string work spiraling rhythmically around drummer Buddy Gibbons and bassist/vocalist Ben Henton in some fairly gnarly ways, but I tend to think that it would be more exciting with boars, organic or mechanical, released into the studio while Luther & co. were jamming. Hell, even some overdubbed snorting/drooling action would do the trick. Maybe there were issues with the union. I’m not sure. ‘Til they get their shit together with the boars, this introductory album features some solid power trio fusion. Oblique Strategies sez: Short circuit (example; a man eating peas with the idea that they will improve his virility shovels them straight into his lap).
Tracks – Uncle Billy’s Smokehouse
There’s a little of a lot in Uncle Billy’s Smokehouse’s not entirely original sound, and their success kinda depends on what the listener thinks of those elements. There is a thick, blues-based classic rock influence, for sure, with solos a-plenty, grungy organ, and hopping backbeats. But there’s also a distinctly overwrought modern rock edge to the material, with numbers like "Babe" even sounding like Soundgarden in places. Layered beneath the distortion throughout is an unsuppressed jamband boogie that places their music squarely in the realm of the populist (though it’s hard to imagine how to dance to it). Guitarist Sean Ryan certainly shreds, but it’s hard to find an emotional hold within its mostly generic confines. Oblique Strategies sez: "Water." More info…

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