CULTURE COURT SHORTS
JJ Cale & Eric Clapton: The Road to Escondido
JJ Cale & Eric Clapton, guitars & vocals | prod. Cale & Clapton with Simon Climie | Reprise 2006
additional players: Derek Trucks, Doyle Bramhall II, John Mayer, Albert Lee, Christine Lakeland [guitars] Gary Gilmore, Willie Weeks, Nathan East, Pino Palladino [bass] Billy Preston, Walt Richmond, JJ Cale [keys] Dennis Caplinger [fiddle] Jim Karstein, James Cruce, Steve Jordan, Abraham Laboriel Jnr [drums] Taj Mahal [harmonica] Bruce Fowler, Marty Grebb, Steve Madaio, Jerry Peterson [horns]
II Anticipated by fans of the laid-back country blues guitar, this CD certainly has some sweet playing in that shadowy shuffle style that JJ Cale excels at. With Clapton's fluid blues edge and their combined production savvy, this collaboration has the potential of being a landmark meeting at the crossroads by two legendary guitar nomads.
Even though JJ writes most the material, other writers are included, for example the excellent Track 8, Hard to Thrill, a moody fatigue blues that Clapton wrote with the new gen chopper John Mayer... and the late Brownie McGhee's Sporting Life Blues which EC sings like a man wistfully resigned to wearing a nicotine patch and giving up the hunt. Both these tracks are replete with world weariness, a sense of bitter-sweet withdrawal and relief. As JJ notes in his humorous shuffle, Last Will & Testament, "I'm over sixty/ pretty soon I'll be a ghost." This sense of resignation -- a long journey closing, perhaps way down there on "the road to Escondido" -- underpins a lot of the relaxed mood in this album. Sub-text is everywhere. Cale's superb Heads In Georgia has that slow memorial melancholy, the feeling of another era, another life, as much as it's nostalgia for another place. Freight trains, beautiful gals, and the dream of California.
There are a few up-tempo numbers too, such as the quick-step trot, When This War is over, which is a melodic refit of JJ's famous Call Me the Breeze where once again the special Cale country feel revitalizes what has become a generic bar band form. Nice slide solo in there by (I assume) Derek Trucks, the great young guitarist with the current Allman Brothers band, and now touring with EC as part of his unit. Of course it's hard to argue with the sentiment of the lyric, regardless of which side of the Iraq divide the listener stands.
Dead End Road is a pure Tennessee country sprint, complete with a sassy hillbilly fiddle and some hot pick gitar -- maybe Albert Lee who is listed as a player -- reminiscent of the Vince Gill snap & hustle style. Track 14 is a well-chosen exit number written by Cale called Ride the River. It's the old "leave this town behind, leave all your worries too," this time taking a boat down a fast flowing river. Absolutely great solos here by JJ and EC, which capture the sense of floating away from it all, the release & the escape.
The Road to Escondido: all in all, a nice listen with nothing too radical, but with a groove & symmetry that's likely to be popular with the older crowd who still like to get festive with a nice bottle of something & stretch out in front of a new sound system. 3, maybe 4 stars... as she wears.
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TED NUGENT: Full Bluntal Nugity Live 2 disc DVD 2003
DTE Energy Music Theatre, Detroit, Michigan, August 21, 2001
Ted Nugent: guitars, vocal
dir Tommy Thayer & Jonathan
the artist in paradox
II Ted Nugent... he was worth a joint and a listen back in the seventies. He even had some modest hits like the tight booty shaker "Hey Baby" and the very psychedelic "Stranglehold" with its Echoplex mind drifts. Hey, he was a contender, even made a spot on Miami Vice in the eighties playing -- what else? -- a pretty-boy gun dealer with a hot bait chick and zero morality. Good casting, folks. At the time you could blame Michael Mann for this, but now, after listening to Nugent babble about the soul hunt and watching him shoot a bear with an Ouzi or is it a cross-bow, you have to wonder if he really believes this shite or if it's all just an act, part of the show biz persona of "The Motor City Madman".
There's something messy about this cat, this proto-punk xenophobe who should've been in Vietnam and could now be a "contractor" in Iraq... but then his stage act is so over-the-top you have to laugh. It's one thing to watch him and his band empty a few clips into some target dummies in the back yard... another to watch him stalk and kill "the real enemy" -- a synthesizer hiding in the bushes. Yep. He blows this baby into oblivion with an elephant gun or a pump-action repeater or who knows what. It's funny, although it masks something that isn't funny at all. As he says, he's living "the American dream".
Frankly, if you're sensitive about firearms & killing animals, you should skip the home movies and the micro documentary, stick with the Detroit concert... and if you don't like 15 minute guitar & bass jams, then turn away, brother, don't even watch, let alone rent or buy. This is quintessential muso brutalism. A 5150 Peavey amplifier stack at the mercy of (can it be so?) Nugent's vintage Gibson Birdland, a guitar more commonly associated with jazz placebo, but here the weapon of choice. Oh, sometimes he plays a Les Paul, but it's the Bird with its f-slot hollowbody that squeals like a hunted pig trapped in the shadow of the big magnet that he favors. Technically, Nugent is a good player, no question. Of course some will say he over-plays, lacks subtlety and skill as an arranger. He cavorts like an ego-maniac, plays like a sadist. In a sense, he's everything that the punks aspired to: in yer face, dissonant, politically incorrect. A redneck howl for attention? He's got it, man, he's got it. He hammers on that axe like a mule-beater, yet the babes in the audience thrill stare as if he's Fabio.
The artist in paradox. When you watch him play his classic "Cat Scratch Fever" at an open air concert at the Ontario Speedway in California (1978), it's retro bliss, almost love and peace. He has the muchacho vibe of a Peter Frampton, the engaging narcissism of a pampered tomcat. Kick ass? Yes indeed. Too bad he had to get old and nasty... like Jimmy Swaggert preaching to the hookers. Express yourself, sure. "Rock n roll is like the big hunt," he proclaims. "I call it projectile management." Oh... Wang Dang Sweet Poontang! The arrow cuts down a bear (expendable), a Gibson Birdland (expendable)... and the slathering buffalo he rides triumphantly onto the stage at the start of this concert dies within a year... expendable? Old age probably but you wonder.
Despite all the bollocks, the band is tight, Marco Mendoza hard & steady on the bass. You have to be in the mood for this, but if you still dig the smell of gasoline and party with your personal 12 pak, what the hell... 4 stars.
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ZUCCHERO Sugar Fornaciari: FLY
prod. Don Was
vocals, electric/acoustic guitar, keys
II Who is this dude, you say -- sounds like Pavarotti in the body of Joe Cocker. Italian, big in Europe for years, and unlike many rockers, "Sugar" can really sing. He's collaborated with nearly every big star you know... Eric Clapton, Sting, Paul Young, Bono... and on and on. These people can't be wrong, can they? No. This cat Zucchero can rock.
If you want to see him in action, check out Pavarotti's War Child concert, Modo, Italy 1998, and still easily available on vid. Here he performs a stunning version of his major Euro hit Il Volo (My Love). In the meantime, you could check out FLY.
Produced by Don Was, who seems to have the mojo these days. The opening track Bacco perbacco is a very funky dance number, sure to be popular in the black light salons. Bass and drums make you want to goosestep, haul the chain, it has that kind of muscle twitch. Lyrics are Euro- Americano jive babble, a polyglot mash of Italian & English.
A few body grope ballads, of course, which have the signature melodious Zucchero vocals and tasty electronic murals. Maybe some of them plod a bit under the stress of their operatic pedigree but.... The CD is worth it alone for the gospel-like Shine, with its slow hammer beat & arcade choir. Nice dobro guitar by Greg Liesz... and Hammond organ by the old Oblivion X demon himself, Brian Auger. There's also a bonus version included at the end. Shine: not to be confused with the excellent song of the same name by David Gray, which was an international hit.
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Stephen Duros | SSRI 2006 | all
compositions written by Stephen Duros
II Ever been to Atlantis... when the plazas and the statues were in their prime/ and the smell of lavender mingled with the ocean brine? Perhaps not. Perhaps you went to the colonies, Mars, say, worked in the polonium mine in the crater Thira... and the only statues you saw were the fossilized effigies of the ostracized scholars of the Atlantean academy, exiled prior to the Great Cataclysm. Ah... how the mind travels... as the muso poet travels.
Stephen Duros' excellent first album for Santa Fe's Spiral Subwave Records International puts you right in these places by astral circumstance because below the trad Mediterranean instrumentation there's a subtle science fiction tint in the overall audio coloring.
"Thira" -- in actuality a location in the Greek isles associated with Atlantis -- is nuevo flamenco, but with an eastern Mediterranean feel, the sense of dusky Levant light and shipwrecks in the Aegean, the lonely sirens calling out to their drowned lovers. You can dig this, people. Romanticism and the call of history, lost civilizations, dream chambers and the effigies of Kings. And while the synth textures & backgrounds make this CD nuevo, it's the call and response between the flamenco guitar & the oud that set the mindscapes way back in ancient history.
Musique montage. The post-modern artist inhabits a multi-cultural world which starts in fiction and ends in reality... or at least in the mystical realization of something.
Says Stephen Duros: "Atlantis sounds like an amazing place. Imagine all the different artwork and food from all the trading of different cultures, plus the inventions. I read somewhere that they had helicopter type devices, who knows if that's true, but like they just said in that article, if they can make that astronomical device [the Antikythera Clock/Calculator], what else did they have?
"When I wrote the song 'Seven Wonders of the Ancient World' it touches upon that. To me, it's a journey in search of a mystical place like Atlantis."
A slow, processional solea where the lyricism of SD's flamenco guitar gives way to a majestic tomb raider synth passage, then closes with a hash den oud, makes Seven Wonders of the Ancient World one of the best tracks... although several others are contenders. Indigo (04) has a techno club feel, due to the bass and the Latin percussion that drifts in like a soft breeze, bearing excitement and mystery. It's a rumba, and the moody twined guitar & oud ride a funky Doobie Bros rhythm. Nice gut bucket bass here haunting the lower depths as the toms chatter through the bridges. The melody line is onomatopoeia, as you can mouth the words as you ride into the twilight, although no words are written, no words are sung. You be speaking in tongues, traveller? Better believe it. She talk crazy talk/ you talk gypsy talk.
Or 06, Spiral - Beneath the Surface. This literal title belies its excellent impressionism, the strong g-line and spiralling bridge as you descend into the ocean... deeper & deeper until you drop into the historical ethos, maybe the collective unconscious. It's the back-color synth, the congas, and the call & response guitar/oud that keep you in the dream helix. When the guitar gets gitano nasty, it seems to be driving the spiral towards an unseen conclusion... but suspends, dies, and suddenly you're back in the theme, swimming in the hazy pastel water, a trophy from an ancient shipwreck in your hands. What could it be? Technology from another civilization, like the Antikythera Mechanism? [a sophisticated zodiacal calculator found in an ancient wreck] As you keep listening, you realize you've become a looter from another dimension. Muso warp, courtesy of Capt. Duros.
Here's a nice track: Lavender, with its subliminal synth and moody architecture working on the 6th sense... or how about Azhar: Shadows on the Sand with its fat insect bass line and an alluring melody that recalls "Paint It Black"...and those funky camels running for the oasis. Again, the rhythm has that Tom Johnston (Doobie Bros) gitano funk style guitar driving it across those big dunes into the long shadows of the palms.
Stephen Duros recorded & mixed this album himself in L.A. where he lived for eleven years before recently relocating to Santa Fe. As he played all the instruments himself [Ottmar Liebert plays some lead & rhythm parts on the title track] and wrote all the material, I think he deserves to be called an auteur.
CD is a nice looking package -- paper, rather than plastic, and I understand it costs triple what a jewel case costs to produce. So you don't have to worry about this unit coming apart, becoming a premature part of the landfill problem.
Thira: can you dance to it? Sure, it's got a techno rhythm... although it's the gitano heart that draws you into dreams.
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a film by
Mika Kaurismaki 2002
star: Margareth Menezes, Ivo Mereilles with Funk 'n' Lata, Seu Jorge, Walter Alfaiate, Jacinto Silva, Caju & Castarha, Silverio Pessoa, Mangueira et. al.
color | 105 mins | anamorphic widescreen
This had to be the thinking of Mika Kaurismaki when he upped and left his native Finland in the early nineties, moved to Rio, started a club... just like Bogart in Casablanca or Glen Ford in Buenos Aires (Gilda). When the producers of The Buena Vista Social Club, the highly successful documentary about Cuban music, approached him about doing a similar film on Brazilian music, he was, naturally, interested even though by his own admission he was no professional player himself but had dabbled in rock n roll. Well, you'll see why he wanted to get out of Finland....
Exterior. Day (which looks like night). The camera pans right over a cold ocean surface, closes on Mika as he turns from the frozen dock, walks away, the ugly wind blowing snow dust over the exposed tarmac and black ice. Bare trees and dirty white drifts: Helsinki, December 5, 2000. Mika's V.O. tells us how he got into Brazilian music 30 years ago. Cross-fade into a sandy road somewhere in Pernambuco, Brazil. Mika's now coming at you in a jeep, blond hair streaming, wearing a tropical shirt... pulls a hard left, goes into the prohibited reservation area occupied by the Fulni-O Indian Tribe.
"I had 100 hours (of film) and had to reduce it to 100 minutes"
Back to the roots? Someone's, certainly. MK's "road movie" essentially examines Brazilian music as a cross-cultural mix from three primary sources: the indigenous Indian, the African slave, and the colonial Portuguese. The commonality is a tradition of oral poetry, chanted or sung to polymetric rhythms/2-4 samba clapped, drummed and danced as often or not as part of folk ceremonies that have ritualistic and religious import. The Fulni-O paint their bodies, dance, circle, sing about the origin of the world as they shake dried pellets in tins or gourds.
"The great flood/ the Indians become fish/ the Indians become stones/ and for this reason are the lords of Brazil" sings/raps the Fulni vocalist. The Fulni assert that the Tore is the lst Indian dance, and that the samba is the 2nd. Yet despite this deep ethnic introduction, it's interesting to see a group of youngsters, the Banda Fulni, do an electronic reggae lament in a rough rehearsal space replete with the latest gear: drum kit, 5-string bass, electric guitar, synth, mics and P.A. Judging by the surrounding poverty, you wonder if a government agent recently swept through town bearing gifts from Japan.
"Foro is like dust... it rises up, settles everywhere"
Next, Mika drives into Caruaru, the capital of Forro, and teams up with a young local singer, Silvero Pessoa, and they do the rounds. They go into the country, see the rural maracatu, a religious festival, and visit a primitive instrument-maker at a market. There's some concert footage of Silverio performing with the late Jacinto Silva on an open air stage, the lyrics supplemented with improv inspired by the occasion. Closer to the coast, Mestre Salus Tiano explains the tradition of the Maracatu (de Baque Solto) and the withdrawl/denial it requires. "I've done it all," he says. "I was a lancer... you can't go out, have a girlfriend."
"Today you hear funk and rap... but it's all based on the Embolada"
In the coastal city of Recife (it was near here that Orson Welles filmed some of his ill-fated film about the samba It's All True) things get a little more secular when the violinist & dancer Antonio Nobrego talks about and performs the samba de coco with a definite art gallery sophistication... although things on the street are still pretty fundamental with the cheeky spontaneous songsters Caju and Castanha who started performing the Embolada improv form as kids to escape poverty. We see them signing CDs in the plaza, singing about gringos and cuckolds, and whatever catches their attention. "Today you hear funk and rap... but it's all based on the Embolada. Street singing, it's all the same. Embolada is the real rap."
In Salvador Baha the sambista Margareth Menezes talks about caporeia/candomble, the black African marital arts choreography that became integral to the Carneval and the samba. Mika unfortunately avoids any hard-core voodoo authorities in his research, although there is a sequence of candomble performers included with the "extras". MM's band is an electric ensemble, and this lady can lay it down.
Funk n Lata: "The snare always plays samba beat, no matter what"
Of course the action has to move downtown... and it's in Rio that Mika meets up with some of the core samba performers. Walter Alfiaite, the lyricist who is also a tailor... Seu Jorge, a poet of the streets who doesn't mind a beer as he reminisces... and the very dynamic Ivo Mereilles who uses a samba battery in his funk band. In fact it's Funk n Lata that gives the climactic performance up in the hills above town. It's a great performance, with people standing on the roofs and street as the band lays down its heavy groove in a waste lot surrounded by abandoned buildings. Mereilles clambers up ladders, drops through empty windows, dances on the rooftops as the people boogie down to the samfunkadelic beat. Chicks... yeah, Rio chicks. Kids... yeah, Rio kids. Mothers... yeah, Rio mothers. Everybody. It's a great windup for this educational odyssey through the muso pulse of planet Brazil.
Again and again, the performers interviewed in this documentary recount how they started singing the samba ballad as a means of escaping poverty. Seu Jorge, now a popular artist with his own studio, recounts how he was forced to live on the streets for 5 years. Ivo Mereilles says he came close to being sucked into the drug trade or robbing a bank, a fate typical of many of Rio's youth who live in the favelas.
Is the film nice to look at? Not bad. Some nice sky shots in the transitions, especially in the Pernambuco sequences, and of course there is the de rigueur helicopter montage over Rio. The sound favors ambient P.O.V. (even for the concert clips) so the documentary sensibility is carried throughout. I wouldn't call this the hipster's guide to Brazilian groove, but it is democratic in its choice of artists and their locations.
As director Mika Kaurismaki says: "In Brazil music is part of one's body... not background."
Remember the ending of the great Rio voodoo samba movie Black Orpheus? The bossa nova evocation of the sunrise? Moro No Brasil has a similar lyric running as the closing credits roll: "The sun will shine again/ evil will rot on the vine...."
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written & recorded by Joe Abernethy, Spinning Gold Records 2006
vocals & guitar: Joe
II I know Joe, but it's been a few years... he's in Vancouver now, got a group, writes songs, gigs, records. We used to talk about literature and recently exchanged e-mails about the late great Texas song writer Townes van Zandt... although Joe's 2nd CD College Grove is nothing like the heartache patois of old Townes. Rather, I'm reminded of early Tim Buckley before he went downtown R & B, embraced the bazooka & blew himself out of this life... beautiful Tim Buckley when he was writing melodically intricate folk albums with inward-looking lyrics typical of the automatism of the psychedelic period.
College Grove. Loose? Indie loose? No. Joe Abernethy is a little more disciplined even if his influences do come from that period. Many of the songs have a Pink Floyd piano lullaby feel, drift meter rather than shuffle, the words following the notes. You can hear this in Queer Bright, a lazy summer afternoon dream ode, like lying on the lawn flicking daisy heads and allowing the clouds to shape your thoughts... or the pop hymn, True of Ourselves, with its engaging 12 string g-line and revivalist organ. True closes with a drinking song coda, the repeated line and harmonies building to a sense of historic doom as if the Chancellory is in flames and the Russians are at the gate. Smash your glasses, comrades, drink straight from the bottle.
Ah, it's not all a melancholy graffiti of the existential self. CD kicks off with the snappy Beatlesque Astronaut, nice and easy on the line "she don't play nice anymore." You can dance to this, maybe burn a few books or watch T.V. with the sound off. There's something ambiguous about J.A.'s lyrics, a sense of satire behind the straight face. For example, The Voice, "finally I've got myself figured out/ I've turned myself into the voice" -- a line you might miss within the slick arrangement.
Lots of interesting stuff here, cautiously (or should I say subtly) experimental at times, for example the off-pitched Track 05 Going Home, which flutters like a stretched cassette tape before locking into its Floydian keyboard tick tock meter... or the tone poem lyric of 07, The Weather, spoken rather than sung... a lot of J.A.'s delivery is voice-shifting rather than singing, something I certainly don't mind.
Well, I haven't seen Joe in a while, and now, after listening to College Grove, I imagine him moving between fairs in a gypsy caravan, a spare pony tied behind, like an old time balladeer always ready to make a run. I know... that world is gone, although the muso poet can take us into any world he wants. These tunes are short, A.M. radio short, yet never shallow. I wouldn't call this rock n roll, even though 4/4 is followed. These songs are like theatre pieces, part of a revue, although True To Ourselves would sound damn good on the pub jukebox down in the Cecil Hotel on Granville.
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EVERYONE STARES: The Police Inside Out
a film by Stewart Copeland, 2006
cine: Stewart Copeland
star: Sting, Andy Summers, Stewart Copeland, Kim Turner, Miles & Ian Copeland, various show biz jockies, fans & unknown transients
Here's a stocking stuffer if ever there was one for you fans of The Police: 50 hours of Super 8 footage of the band's rise to fame filmed by the drummer Stewart Copeland and now edited into a legitimate movie that even got an official showing at the Sundance festival. Hey -- not bad for an old wacker with a Mac and Pro Tools editing software. Well why not? Stewart Copeland has been successfully scoring movie soundtracks in the 20 years since The Police broke up. Besides, others have gone before, like Mickey Jones' home movie of Dylan's 1966 World Tour. And he was a drummer too.
Amazing how everyone becomes a thug when a camera is pointed at him, "fuck off" being the main respondo, an ugly face or gesture a close second. Another nice line is the band driver Kim Turner's "Take a dump, will you?" There's a natural antagonism to an uninvited camera, so the fact that people everywhere expose themselves to bank machines and surveillance cameras makes the The Police and its entourage come off as reasonably civilized here. Of course, who knows what was left out... another monstrous piece of cinema verite like Robert Frank's C S Blues? Somehow I doubt it. Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers are gentlemen. As for Sting... well, read his autobio and you know he certainly is.
Ah what a great band they were, accurate on the beat, with superb chord colorations courtesy of Andy Summers... the one person here who is truly humorous when playing to the camera. A female dresser pencils in his eyebrows and Andy admires himself in the mirror, purrs, "Beautiful... truly beautiful."
Stewart Copeland narrates, keeps it brief, diplomatically charts the rise of the band from obscurity to its breakup. No blame is assigned. It seems they just got sick of the sight of one another, although you never see any ugly backstage scenes or limousine petulance.
Yes, cheap hotels and motels... the Holiday Inn, the Ramada Inn, Motel 6.2... you know these places. At one point Sting enters a cheapo room with its generic brown cardboard panelling, formaldehyde flake ceiling and dumpster TV, emits a cry of despair. Trains, planes and vans... and the doppler howl of the groupies in the night. What a montage: the faces may change, the places may change, but you're still in the same old band, uh, room.
The sound is processed ambient, so don't expect any blistering performances or inserted rock vids. Mind you, Sting's performance of All I Wanna Do Is Mess With You at the the Lorelei Festival in Germany is quite wild. His body pulses like a Tourettes victim, toe to arse, pure speed metal body bop. Who was running the 8 mm? Who knows, as Stewart is right there on stage machining behind his big turbo drum kit.
Not that this would stop him, as one of the more outrageous sequences has him filming himself during a performance of So Lonely. Even as he drums, he turns and talks to the camera, then sings into the microphone, does a few fills, then swivels to his camera once again... wow, this cat can walk and chew gum at the same time! Decadent? Post-modern? Absolutely.
The overall quality of what you see is quite good, considering the limitations of 8 mm. Difficult to focus, difficult to keep steady, noisy and limited to 3 minute cartridges. And the salt goes soft with time. But... digitize it, filter it, and cut to the beat... and everything be o.k., man.
Everyone Stares. Indeed they do. I mean, you could invoke Vertov here, his iconic 1929 silent, Man With A Movie Camera, where the idea was to move the images as fast as the viewers' thoughts, but... that was then, this is now. Three stars.
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