All too often the phrase "alternative country" means childishly strummed electric guitar with wan, croaky vocals laid over the top. And maybe, if you're lucky, a steel guitar will appear to give the proceedings an air of supposed authenticity. What's so damm satisfying about the Sadies, however, is how influences such as surf, psychedelic pop, and Ennio Morricone are deftly injected into their trippy oeuvre, making for a truly alternative vision of country music.
Favourite Colours, the bands fifth full-length, opens with "North Humberland West," an obvious tribute to the late Clarence White with its fast n' twangy open-string licks. Other cuts, such as "Song for the Chief Musician" sport an acid-soaked sound reminiscent of the Byrds' Notorious Byrd Brothers. I'm still not sure if it's the lush, low-key harmonies, the dense layers of acoustic guitars, or the straight-up Tele wranglin' that keeps me coming back, but sometimes it's best to stop asking questions and just listen. Yep Roc.
This is gonna be kind of messed up and cruel, but Rush gives me the giggles. I mean, can you really listen to their oh-so-meaningful lyrics and resist quivering in spasms of laughter? C'mon-that stuff is funny. Then, there's Geddy's voice. Say no more. And how about the technically brilliant drumming that typically segments songs into mini-operas of percussive nattering? The guitars? Overprocessed and overly widdilly widdilly. Hilarious.
But now I'm going to apologize to Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, and Neil Peart, because Feedback-a 7-song EP of cover tunes such as "Summertime Blues," "Heart Full of Soul," and "Crossroads"-is absolutely magnificent, and I'm not putting anybody on, including myself. Something about paying homage to their fave '60s tunes turned these cats into near punkers with something to prove, and their playing is vibrant, edgy, and almost off the rails. Lee's phrasing and timbre is chill inducing, Peart slams into the grooves like a big scary dump truck, and Mr. Lifeson is totally on fire and nearly out of control. There is nothing self important or pompous about anything here. Every single note is slathered with joy, funk, and passion. This is what a summer record should sound like. I love it in a big, big way. Atlantic.
Things Behind the Sun
On his fifth album, Durant creates a marvelous pastiche of the tones and textures explored on his previous recordings, while generally framing them in more harmonically complex structures. Accompanied by upright electric bassist Tony Levin and drummer Vinny Sabatino (with woodwind player Joe Cunningham on one track), Durant lays down gentle but compelling chord sequences and polyrhythmic "mallet" patterns-played on a guitar synth and processed with a Lexicon Vortex-over which he plays melodies and solos. The beautifully rich and warm guitar tones-whether clean and jazzy-sounding or highly saturated with distortion-provide the emotional impetus for the compositions, enhanced by atmospheric "cloud" guitars and other ambient touches. Highlights include "They Left by the Water," on which Durant's guitar follows the microtonal inflections of Cunningham's "frula" lines; and the "duduk" guitar-synth solo on "Labyrinth of the World." Alchemy.
Everyone is Here
Throughout his tenures in Split Enz and Crowded House, I have been amazed and dumbfounded at Neil Finn's ability to yank surprising and expressive melodies out of the same damn chords that every other schmuck songwriter carries around in his or her back pocket. Not fair. And while I'm a little less enamored of big brother Tim's quirky songcraft, I must admit that he, too, is visiting realms that other writers simply can't find on any map. Put the two boyos together, and you not only get the fabulous, soaring harmonies that are reserved for those who share the same parents, but also extremely exuberant and deep arrangements that meld Neil's pop sense with Tim's idiosyncratic view of, well, everything. The downside is that the brothers' music is so intelligent that few elements will jump into your brain at first listen. But if you can let the tunes simmer in your head a while, you'll likely be floored by the melodic and harmonic richness, the understated majesty of some wonderful guitar moments, and the cagey, cinematic minimalism of the sonic layers. Beautiful. Beguiling. Inspiring. Nettwerk.
Tagged as being everything from stoner rock to a hardcore/metal jam band, Clutch simply refuses to be pigeonholed. And, as this rerelease of 1999's, Jam Room can attest, that's just fine. Containing three extra tracks, Jam Room manages to be loose and slightly indulgent without sprawling into excess. Guitarist Tim Sult takes righteous advantage of the rhythm section's loping, loose grooves to careen in and out of Iommi-esque sludge, funky wah stabs, and killer call-and-response solos. Megaforce.
Grace of the Sun
I have loved Richie Havens' voice since I first heard the recording of his performance at Woodstock in the late '60s. Deep, nuanced, and possessing a spiritual potency that has proved capable of moving even the most hidebound listener, that voice is still as vibrant and purposeful as ever. But Havens is much more than simply a talented vocalist. He is also a brilliant songwriter and interpreter of the words of others, as the covers of Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower" and Joni Mitchell's "Woodstock" presented here remind us. What's more, he's a tireless advocate of social justice and compassion towards his fellow men and women.
On Grace of the Sun, Havens' often relentless acoustic playing is tempered by a trans-world ensemble that includes multi-instrumentalists such as Christopher Cunningham (sarod, bazouki, 12-string, and electric slide guitar) and Hasan Isakkut (Turkish violin, kanun), along with a variety of percussionists and acoustic, electric, and resonator guitarists. The result is a sort of global folk fusion. But as interesting and engaging as the music is, the focus is always Havens' remarkable voice, and the message of each of the ten songs. Stormy Forest.