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   Tuesday, February 24, 2004  
They're handmade, home-recorded, there's only fifty of them and reallyrather has no.32 - better move swiftly to bag Love your engine by Chad King from boutique label Keep Recordings. Peddling lovingly packaged full-length CDRs of original material at just $6 a go, this admirable new enterprise out of Tucson, AZ. gets pretty close to bullseye with only it's second release. Iron & Wine-meets-J J Cale, anyone?
Well, sort of. Branching out from his main gig Hula, guitarist Chad King has crafted a fine set of low-key, melodic country/folk, or anti-folk if you will. The model ethic of JJ Cale is applied: eleven tunes in a little over half-an-hour, pared of all extraneous detail but still warm and winning. And each one comes with a proper ending, always a good sign; laid back but definite, loose but focused. Most of the tracks share a similar palette: acoustic strumming, dark-hued vocals/harmonies, subtle rhythm section and terrifically atmospheric pedal steel winding around it all like smoke from the embers.
The swaying opener is called Tired which might stand as a motif for the emotional feel of much of this set; sweetly wearied. The folkier Fading glow follows, melting into a beautiful instrumental refrain. And there's plenty more like this - Settle down, Blue as can be, Salt mouth, Forever down - blissful, wistful stuff [check out I'll be all grown up available to hear here].
But it's not all dreamy, languorous folk twang. The shuffling Circle K picks up the tempo and, appropriately enough, Lucky man is positively jaunty. Most stylistcally exceptional of all is Dry your tears, a remarkably authentic slice of country soul which sounds like something Curtis Mayfield and Otis Redding might have cooked up between them; you join in the raspy chorus as if you've know it forever. This sort of thing gives pastiche a good name.
These are home recordings and you can tell but it won't matter. Love your engine isn't about to shake anyone's world but there's plenty here to make you, discerning listener, glow inwardly having found it. The question is: Were this a more 'regular' release retailing at a more 'regular' price, would reallyrather still be as interested? Comfortably, the answer is yes...

The UK release date of Fortune, The Mendoza Line's new album, has been pushed back to May 3. Label Cooking Vinyl is offering a couple of (excellent) preview tracks, and Jenyk was at their NY show last week...

New tracks also available from Shearwater ahead of their 2nd Misra release (Fargo in the UK), Winged Life [site | sounds]. If they're any guide, it's a bit of a shift away from the sombre sonics of Everyone makes mistakes, perkier, more conventional-sounding. It's another Matt Pence production featuring members of Okkervil River, Centro-matic and..Little Grizzly...

..aah the late Little Grizzly. Sad tidings from their website: 'We have come to a very tough decision and have decided to end the band. The final show is on May 1st and will be a big extravaganza featuring some old friends joining us on stage. It will also be the release show for our final CD. Why do so many bands release CDs right when they break up anyway?' Whatever that one's like, everyone should at least have I'd be lying if I said I wasn't scared, their raucously poignant belter from '01...

'[They've] delivered a record that is funny, sad, depressing and utterly breathtaking. Yeah, breathtaking.' Phew! Mundane Sounds get kinda excited at discovering the pyschedelic bluegrass of Starlings, TN...

...the belles thebeans the bens the bees the hives the vines the stand the stills the thrills the strokes the shins the whiles...
   posted by SMc at 9:43 AM |

   Wednesday, February 11, 2004  
'Doctor, those Weepies are all very well but my ingrained indie sensibilities won't let me go all the way with you on that one [You'll learn - Doc]. Can you recommend anything else in the way of cool strummy pop loveliness with which to get through what remains of the winter? You know the sort of thing - floaty female vocals, Mazzy Star/Sundays stay-in-bed-at-the-weekend-cos-its-just-too-horrible-out-there kind of stuff.'
A Doctor writes: does this sound?: 'Gentle and lush guitar pop..swooning music for the big hearted..Mojave3-meets-Aimee Mann-meets-Throwing Muses,' it says here of a Canadian indie release from last year by Maplewood Lane. Admittedly, there's a lot of this sort of stuff about, much of uninspired, and ML don't completely pull it off. The phrase 'deceptively simple' often attaches itself to slow-tempo numbers in this genre when there's not really anything deceptive about it at all. They really are that simple, not songs but merely chord changes; stretching them out over five minutes rarely helps.
Maplewood Lane fall into this comfort zone/trap over almost half the album which throws it's brighter side into even sharper relief. Three cuts particularly stand out here: No words to say with it's fat twanging guitar line and handclaps, and the shimmering perfect pop of Colour and the gold and Wildwood drive. You will want these and you are in luck. Somewhat rashly, they've left all three lying around over here...

And, if the sample provided by Darla is any indication, Dreamer's book, the new album from Mascott aka Jane Kendall Meade (out Feb14) will yield yet more dreamy pop goodness. 'If Aimee Mann had fended off cynicism, she might sound like Kendall Meade. These serenely tuneful songs turn folk-rock into stately pop, wrapping vulnerability and longing in quietly radiant arrangements,' said the NewYorkTimes this week...
Mascott | Red Panda Records

So, this Blake Sennett solo thing, what's it like?
'Me First is what happens to L.A. kids who grow up listening to Joy Division and the Beach Boys while staring at the Pacific moon. The debut from the The Elected is drenched in the laid-back, pedal steel vibe of original stardust cowboy Gram Parsons. He never sang about girls who cut their arms or pill-popping moms but this album, dedicated to Elliott Smith, taps both artists' rare breed of exquisite sadness.' That's Rolling Stone, this isn't: 'Solo projects often allow a glimpse of the individual writers who make up full bands, and we can now surmise the mellow, country-inspired songwriting of Sennett - a nasty cocktail of alt-soft-rock and alt-country - is made palatable in Rilo Kiley only because of Lewis' input.'
Hmm, critics eh? Perhaps The Onion's more forensic approach will help us: 'Two seemingly disparate producers leave the most obvious fingerprints: Jimmy 'Postal Service' Tamborello and Mike 'Bright Eyes' Mogis. When the two sides meet, something special emerges. While playing spot-the-influences isn't hard - Grandaddy might be due a royalty on "C'mon, Mom," and Badly Drawn Boy could find something to whistle along with on "Don't Get Your Hopes Up" - it's also pointless in light of the album's genuine warmth.' Oh, go on then...
The Elected | on Subpop

Anyone in London Saturday (14th) should detour to Rough Trade's Covent Garden bunker where, at 5pm, there is to be an intimate in-store by Sufjan Stevens no less. The upcoming March release Seven swans gets an early notice over at Bandoppler...

And Babysue is first out of the blocks with a view on the imminent release from Gingersol, Eastern: 'Gingersol blew a lot of people's minds with their last album...and 'Eastern' has absolutely the same effect. Playing beautiful pop music the way it ought to be played, the guys in this band really have their act together...' That'll be high-fives all round, then...

...likewise The Weepies: 'Listening to 'Happiness' I get the feeling I’m on to something'. Indeed, indeed...
   posted by SMc at 6:44 AM |

   Sunday, February 01, 2004  
Imitation, flattery, etc...
'It's sort of folky acoustic singer/songwriter stuff but far more interesting, filled with fuzzy analogue production,' says BBC Collective. Not sure what Matt Ward will make of it but reallyrather says "Oi, M Craft, NO!"

Speaking of M. Ward, he's stated in interview somewhere that last year's wonderful Transfiguration of Vincent was originally shaping to have rather more instrumentals than just the pair that eventually made the album. If memory serves, he went to a memorial service for John Fahey and things changed. But his adopted home town has recently thrown up some new instrumental music which takes up the baton from the late finger-picking pioneer. Check out the Portland label Strange Attractors' release Non-sequiturs by Canadian guitarist Harris Newman: 'If you've ever wondered what Kelley Joe Phelps would sound like if he were brought up on Sonic Youth rather than Mississippi John Hurt, then you have to check this out.'
Harris Newman | Strange Attractors Audio House

'I know what you're thinking: it's bland, it's smooth, it's niceness in syncopated 4/'re wrong,' says Independent on Sunday reviewer Nick Coleman today in the course of awarding the new Norah Jones album a whopping 5 stars, the max. In the musical MOR mainstream, the line between mellow-but-meritorious and straight-out anodyne mush is a thin one indeed, a perilous tightrope but one which reallyrather, like Mr Coleman, is not afraid to attempt tho' in support of a different album, one which, unlike Ms. Jones', is presently to be found by looking down the wrong end of fame's telescope...

Before going on, anyone whose instinct upon hearing, let's say, the words 'James' and 'Taylor' in juxtaposition is to dive for the radio off switch can skip this whole bit. Similarly, fans of the Manly Forearm school of rootsy pop-rock (Steve Earle, Springsteen et al) can move right along, there is nothing for you here. Those looking to be startled, challenged or otherwise provoked will be similarly disappointed. Minor key moodiness is also absent; on the 'Alt'-ometer the needle hovers somewhere between .1 and zero. No, this is music which wipes its feet on the way in when it calls round, maybe even brings along a cake it baked just that morning. Which is good, no? Who wouldn't want friends like that? So then, all those still around, meet Deb & Steve aka The Weepies...

Having apparently followed separate but not entirely dissimilar trajectories, the music of thirtysomething singer-songwriters Deb Talan and Steve Tannen has coalesced with the short 'n' sweet self-release, Happiness (Dec 03). "They're both really good songwriters. Their solo stuff is very good," guitarist Jim Henry (who plays on the record) told their local (Northampton, Mass.) paper last month. "But what they've come up with together sounds even better." With eight songs in just over 26 minutes, all with definite endings (not a lazy fade in sight) The Weepies score some early bonus points. They apply the always admirable 'less is more' maxim (possibly out of necessity, the record being largely homemade in a little space at the top of the house) to a bunch of appealing, warm-hearted country/folk pop underpinned by impressive, clear-eyed songcraft.

Here's a little test. Just by their titles, which of the 8 songs are by the guy?:
1. Happiness
2. All That I Want
3. Vegas Baby
4. Somebody Loved
5. Jolene
6. Simple Life
7. Dating a Porn Star
8. Keep It There
Dolly P.'s classic notwithstanding, Jolene's a giveaway. Zooming off on a whim to 'Vegas, Baby'?, that's such a guy thing (a la Swingers), wouldn't you say? And porn stars, well... Of the eight tunes, these are the least essential. Not that any of them really lets the side down - Vegas Baby cooks along nicely in a Crosby, Stills & Nash/Paul Simon style while Jolene and ..Porn Star detour invitingly down a Music Row sidestreet. They're smartly turned, the playing's right on the button and each is enhanced by the pair's hugely appealing harmonies. But this is 'scenario' songwriting; it's in the more domestic universality of the co-writes & Talan-only songs that a Weepies personality emerges and things start to get a little bit special.

The set is bookended by the damn-near perfectly cadenced Happiness and Keep it there, the title track being a sparkling jangle-pop shimmy nailed to perfection, the other a pristine slice of harmony pop which dips and soars like a kite. In between there's the gently pulsing All that I want, a Christmassy song you can play all year round which builds subtly with brushes, bells and upright bass. It's very pretty and pretty fine as is the disarmingly simple love song Somebody loved (featuring just Deb and guitars) and the rounded, radio-ready full-band number, A simple life.

It's all impressively surefooted and supremely melodic. Lyrically, that last song encapsulates the theme which loosely ties the five, ie. figuring out what's really worthwhile, being amazed at actually finding it and then trying to hold on to it.
I'll kiss you awake, and we'll have time
To know our neighbors all by name
And every star at night

...that kind of stuff. Wistful but not corny. There's not an ounce of astringency here but neither is it cloying. Yes, coffeehouse cliches do hover - the wind, the rain and the sun all feature along with whole a skyfull of stars - but the pair have a masterly way of tweeking what might otherwise be quite commonplace lyrics and tunes, lifting them out of and above the pack. As does their singing. Talan's clear voice has an affecting vibrancy (a distinctive 'reedy catch' as someone else recently noted) but it's the pair's choice harmonies, deftly deployed, which take things to another level and prove just how well matched (they're an item as well as a duo) they are.

So then, The Weepies, purveyors of loveliness. A more optimistic, luckier-in-love Rosie Thomas perhaps, with shades of Shawn Colvin/Jill Sobule and James Taylor's reassuring warmth. It's light, bright, mild and mainstream - and still worthwhile? reallyrather has the facts and is voting 'Yes'. Forget what they say, you really can: Go on, buy Happiness...

The Weepies | Deb Talan | Steve Tannen | Keep it there mp3
   posted by SMc at 6:49 AM |