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Blue Collar's CD Reviews, Volume #1
By Mick Polich - 05/16/2008 - 07:14 AM EDT

First time down the pike: Blue Collar CD Reviews!! A woo-hoo, and a hooty –hoot!!

Oh, I know what you’re thinking – yep, don’t need ‘em, probably gonna review some ‘old-fart’ music (AS IF!!! Then… what if I did, dude???), yeah, the 90th review of “Exile On Main Street” – ZZZZZZZZZZZZZ – hey, wake up when the column is over, o.k.? Humprumph, POOT, ZZZZZZZZZZZZZ…………..

Well, every since I could understand the so-called ‘relevance’ of a critical music review, I’ve been reading those little suckers, enjoying them first for whatever cultural absurdity they may or may not shine a light on, then (de Lawd in Hebbin FOR-BID!!!), actually basing an decision, per the review, to go and purchase the music! Albums, cassettes, no 8-tracks, though (a passing FAD – i.e., see cassettes: yikes, I had a TON of those lit ‘il wafers, but no 8-tracks – didn’t have a cool ride to make that happen….), CD’s, MP3’s (What?? WHAT??! Come on, it’s a little stunted - growth CD…), now downloads – seen a lot of medium for music to be slapped on, sonny!

Want to give a shout-out to a brother, Ned Rood, back in the ol’ hometown – Ned helped over a 20 year span with critical buying decisions, with my hard-earned summer job/winter schlep jobs money, when it came to music during his Peeples Music heydays – love ya, pal, thanks for the insights!

Back in the day, a critical music review could be a work of art into itself – the prose and parameter could be enough to make you want to hop on your Sting Ray bike with your corn de-tassling or bean – walkin’ money, and motor to Ben Franklin or Tractor Supply to buy the new Stones LP, OR avoid it like the plague. I think through that medium, and mags like Rolling Stone, Creem, and whatever local underground newspapers I could get my hands on at the time (Why are these cats talkin’ about revolution and change in Des Moines? Des Moines, Iowa!! It ain’t Berkeley, fer crissakes….), those early plunderings into music and social journalism set the tone for another artsy-fartsy thing I wanted to do with my life (oh, why did I get on my noble horse and go after the gigs that were questionable in earning a living?? I’m sorry, Dad, but as they say, a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do, and hooty-hoo-hoo!!! Yep, they used to say ALL of that phrase, yessir……).

So, to quote Rob Reiner in “This Is Spinal Tap” – “Enough of my yakkin’ –LET’S BOOGIE!!

El Groovy - ness CD Review #1: “The Complete Africa/Brass Sessions”(Impluse Records) – John Coltrane

This CD has been a recent reissue-double disc – and with Coltrane, there’s plenty to enjoy, dissect, or argue about. Backed by Eric Dolphy’s orchestral arrangements, the “Classic Quartet” (Elvin Jones, McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison, Coltrane) was on the cusp of it’s trademark sound, overlaid with washes of brass (I can tell where jazz trumpet player/composer Terence Blanchard got inspiration for some of his film scores). This is Coltrane in another transition period (and when wasn’t the man in transition? Always moving forward….) - dense, orchestra overlays that augmented the quartet quite nicely. “Greensleeves” and “The Damned Don’t Cry” are standouts…

“Fragile” – Bo Ramsey. Southeastern Iowa-boy-does-great Bo Ramsey (Greg Brown, Lucinda Williams) has got a new release out, and that croaky, Southern Gothic-infuxed voice of the Bo Man comes across in 13 cuts that weave tale tales of heartbreak, longing, sorrow – all the classic themes on this alt-country/blues influenced release. Bo’s signature guitar lines snake their way thru the apex of the tunes – he’s got that swamp guitar thing happening thread thru some Midwest sensibilities. One of the royal court of Americana music is back, and cooler than ever!

“Street Legal” – Bob Dylan (Columbia): I had given this Dylan CD the brush-off for many a year (poor reviews and dismissive karma), and it’s highly undue – in retrospect, many critics have shed new light on a collection of fresh writing from Bob (some say some of his best since the motorcycle accident). My guess is that, at the time, this was considered a ‘commercial trappings’ effort – spruce up the arrangements with ‘ white’, late 1970’s - “Saturday Night Live” house band grooves, or perhaps a shot to ‘out-Springsteen’ Bruce Springsteen with the Phil Spector - ish wall o’ sound. Anyway that you slice it, there’s good eatin’ here, folks: the introspective “Changing Of The Guard”, the condescending (new girlfriend v.s. old girlfriend? Some MEANESS there, Zimmy!), nasty, funky blues in “New Pony”, and a standout “Senor’ (Tales Of Yankee Power)”.

This is pre – Christianity convert Bob – knowing that now makes this mark in time for the elusive Mr. Zimmerman all the better…..

“The Meanest Of Times” –Dropkick Murphys: “ I’m Shipping Up To Boston” made the Murphys a household name after it’s soundtrack appearance in the Oscar winning movie “The Departed” – the blend of trad Irish folk tunes emblazoned with punk trappings have boosted the boys past many of their predecessors (namely the long-lamented Pogues from the 1980’s.). U2, Rory Gallagher, Thin Lizzy, Van Morrison, the Dropkicks –what is it about Irish rock that makes it so appealing? As with the Pogues, the Murphys make you want to grab a pint, and rally around the oak bar - swapping tales and arguments, and soaking up life…..

“Five Guys Walk Into A Bar” – Faces 4 - CD box set/retrospective: cool linear notes by keyboardist Ian McLagen, live stuff, alternate takes – a look and listen back to the best band to compete with the Rolling Stones for the early 1970’s heavyweight rock and roll title. Again, this is a group that I got into AFTER the fact – I was musically aware, but not that aware in ’73 – but look no further for some of the real deal at the height of the glam-rock and roll era (I’m sorry, T - Rexsters, but Rod and the boys had it all over you…). Slamming different mixes of the big hits home (“Stay With Me”, “I’m Losing You”, especially the BBC live versions – killer!!), and the obscure gems (“Silicone Grown”, “Open To Ideas”), “Five Guys…” gives a great retrospective to a band that’s just getting the due it needs, and deserves…...

“Just A Little Lovin’ “ - Shelby Lynne (Lost Highway): ‘Tis no secret that I’ve adored Dusty Springfield and her music since wee lad-ism days. “Dusty In Memphis” – this girl is British and white? Get outta town! Amy Winehouse has got a bit of a long dirt road ahead of her to catch the great Dusty. Leave it to old pro Shelby Lynne to respectfully record the Dusty songbook while throwing in a few originals of  her own. Lost Highway Records (I do street team work for the label) and vet producer Phil Ramone have done a masterful job getting a ‘reverse’ production on this tribute (smoky, hazy arrangements, and yes, the good taste not to cover “Son Of A Preacher Man”, among other decisions…).

“Black Tide”: These are CHILDREN, friggin’ kids (around 15 years old, some members perhaps younger), that sound like a hungry Guns N’ Roses who dropped in on Metallica while they were cooking a raw venison dinner one Friday night, just to chat and pick up some pointers on how to do the ‘metal thing’ for their major label debut CD. My guess is that these kids will do some respectable metal after they get their sealegs (they were all under the age of 13 when they formed the band).You won’t hear the Jonas Brothers here, for sure – this is an all-out sonic metal assault!

“Moment Of Time” –Willie Nelson (Lost Highway Records): O.k., o.k., ANOTHER plug for the record label that I do some promo for, but hell, it’s my CD review section, so fuggetaboutit! The teaming of Willie with producer Kenny Chesney left a few eyebrows raised, but for part of the CD, the experiment works (I will say this is one up from the miscalculated “The Great Divide” album from a few years back…). When Willie is in charge, say with his song ”You Don’t Think I’m Funny Anymore”, the results are vintage. But with the earnestness that Kenny Chesney brings to the mix, you would half-expect the mixed results anyway. Try not to fault ol’ Kenny too much - his instincts are commercial (heck, that’s how he’s making his jing, plus, Willie has a BIG family to feed, brother!). AND, as many bios that I’ve read on Willie, I’ll probably get sucked in to buying the latest one on the market, just because his CD’s always prompt me into exploring a little more about the man (and, dang, just when I thought I’ve gotten all the stories I need on the old sage, there’s always ANOTHER one right around the corner!!!).

“Here Is What Is” – Daniel Lanois (Red Floor Records): The achingly beautiful, at times, stunning collection of Lanois originals shines with strong songwriting, arrangements, and shimmering production. This is the man that helped formed such classic albums as “So” by Peter Gabriel, “The Joshua Tree” by U2, and the debut album by the late, great Chris Whitley. The earmarks of trademark Lanois – washes of echo-drenched, watery pedal steel tones, distorted loops of feedback guitar that quickly appear and disappear out of nowhere, deep, earth-ladened bass tones, beautiful world-beat drumming by long-time cohort Brian Blades – comes together with Lanois’ world-weary vocals and lyrical character studies. The shining opener (first wonderfully covered by Emmy Lou Harris on her “Wrecking Ball” album), “Where Will I Be?”, sparkles, as does the groove - set “Moondog”, and the title track.

“Dub Massive, Volume One – Various Artists”(Fuel Records): King Tubby! Lee Perry! The Mad Professor! Sly and Robbie!! All on one great disc-‘nuff said, mon ??

“Brown Street” - Joe Zawinul and the WDR Big Band: Recorded live in October, 2005, but released in 2007, this dual disc set offers great final coda to one of the premier jazz musician/composers of our time. Add old Weather Report comrades such as Victor Bailey and Alex Acuna, and new members as guitarist Paul Shigihara to the big band format, and you’ve got a good gumbo mix on WR favorites such as “Black Market” and “Boogie Woogie Waltz”. A great companion piece to this CD set would be 2005’s “Vienna Nights” – some amazing music from an amazing cat, Mr. Z.!

“Sorry, Ma, Forgot To Take Out The Trash” –the Replacements (Rhino): The last great rock and roll band of the 1980’s (if somebody says Poison, I’m gonna kick some tail, believe me, kids!!)? Maybe – these guys fought, drank, and excessed their way into many rock hearts 20 years ago (yes, they played punk – and – hardcore - speed with their music, but these guys were ROCKERS with the melodies to prove it…). Dismissed as totally awful or awfully brilliant (depend on the night and the show, it seemed), the Minneapolis-based ‘Mats took the anti-concept of rock and rock performance (guitarist Bob Stinson in various forms of cross-dressing on stage, sloppy versions of cover tunes and t.v. theme songs, and, oh, did I mention the drunken tirades?), and spun some very catchy, classic, slammin’ rock songs. I hopped on board towards the end of the ride – the “Pleased To Meet Me” cassette with the classic “Alex Chilton”: by the time I got pumped up about ‘em, “All Shook Down” came out – it wasn’t even really the ‘Mats, more so a Paul Westerberg solo shot, jeez. Then, a few Westerberg solo albums later, then…piddle and poop. Now, with an excellent new bio, and the Rhino re-issues out, it’s ‘Mats fever all over again (plus, they were Midwesterners, and I always gotta root for the home team, especially the Iowa/Minnesota parallels of teen angst amidst the frozen farmlands and metropolitan suburbs…). 

“Into The Blue” – Nicholas Payton (Nonesuch): I’m really enjoying this CD – Nicholas Payton, a New Orleans – brew jazz trumpeter, brings a light coating of his hometown influences to a collection of songs reminiscent of the mid – 1960’s Miles Davis “Classic Quartet” recordings in touch and tone. Payton’s tunes have that modal, airy, mystery of what Miles, Herbie, Ron, and Tony were re-constructing in jazz, circa 1965 – 1968.

Well, it’s a start, isn’t it? As a wise man once told me, hey, we can do anything that we want because we’re CARTOON CHARACTERS!!!! So, there ya go – we’ll certainly do more CD and music reviews in the future – until then, keep listening, and keep expanding that listening ZONE, folks!

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