. . until we felt red (Velour)
out from the solo-acoustic-guitar pigeonhole, Kaki King’s
third full-length album is an impressively eclectic affair
that ranges from wintry mood music to stomping shoegazer anthems
and Frisell-like jazz flights. Exploring electric guitar and
her own singing voice for the first time on record, King shows
she is much more than a flavor of the moment. Her vocals have
a charming sing-songiness that leavens the dark textures of
her music. The eight-minute “You Don’t Have to Be Afraid”
builds from an acoustic miniature to a chugging rocker. “Goby”
shares a kinship with the Latin-tinged folktronica of Juana
Molina, while “Jessica” brings back fond memories of dream-pop
An opening stint for Robert Randolph inspired King to try
out the lap steel, and on the tour de force title track, King’s
unique take on the instrument evokes the atmospheric wooziness
of the Dirty Three as well as the fret- busting firepower
of Sonny Sharrock.
Throughout, King plays with a maturity and force that belie
her age. Produced with a stunning clarity by John McEntire
(whose ace drumming is also a highlight), . . . until
we felt red is a great installment in what should prove
to be an enthralling musical journey.
Solomon Burke’s second Shout! Factory effort is a far cry
from Make Do With What You Got, its Don Was-produced,
rock-tailored 2004 predecessor. Produced by Buddy Miller,
Nashville is largely a duets disc, and it finds Burke
in good company with the likes of Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris
and Patty Loveless. That Miller was able to gather such firepower
to help Burke write yet another chapter in his long history
attests to Burke’s power, on easy and full display here.
In making his first overtly country record, Burke has finally
found the right producer; Was helped him make a well-crafted
but predictable record, and Joe Henry, who produced his 2002
“comeback,” the Grammy Award-winning Don’t Give Up on Me,
may have been a bit sparse. This album is strikingly full-bodied;
at the same time, it’s clear and layered.
The tunes span the sturdy (Tom T. Hall’s “That’s How I Got
to Memphis”), the devotional (“Valley of Tears,” a duet with
Gillian Welch), the respectful (Don Williams’ “Atta Way to
Go”), traditional country (Kevin Welch’s “Millionaire”), the
humorous (Julie and Buddy Miller’s “Does My Ring Burn Your
Finger?”) and the amazing. That description applies to the
hottest track, a cover of Springsteen’s “Ain’t Got You.” It
may be the hardest-rocking groove Burke has ever laid down.
Culled from Springsteen’s underrated Tunnel of Love,
the 1987 chronicle of his divorce from Julianne Phillips,
“Ain’t” spits in the face of despair. Burke sings it so hot,
and the band plays so breathlessly, you expect it to run out
of steam. Instead, you wish it had gone on far longer.
A vocalist of great strength and conviction, Burke hasn’t
sound so in tune with his material since his legendary days
in the ’60s with Atlantic. Now if he’d only tour with a big
country band . . .
Don Byron and Bang on a Can
Ballad for Many (Cantaloupe Music)
As a tick-tock motif sounds insistently, percussive streams
of plangent tones pick up melodic elements. A crescendo of
intensity brings the short track to a peak, and it drops to
a quiet close. It’s an arresting piece of music on its own
that takes on an extra dimension when heard alongside the
vintage TV program it was written to accompany: a remarkable
Ernie Kovacs segment from the early 1960s titled Eugene
and performed without dialogue. It opens with Ernie, wearing
a straw boater and sporting an amusingly phony nose, trapped
in a shrinking, doorless hallway. The tick-tock imperative
makes sense, and, as that motif carries into the next segment,
it becomes amusingly ironic underscoring.
The six tracks correspond to the program’s segments, including
a goofy, silent Dutch Masters commercial. One of the final
segments plays on a tilted set filmed to look as if it’s normal;
there’s a parallel off- kilteredness about the music that
leaps the 40 years and nicely connects them.
Red-Tailed Angels” is a suite written last year for the soundtrack
to a documentary on the Tuskegee Airmen, the World War II
group who comprised the first African-American fighter pilots.
Two other extended pieces are “Basquiat,” a ballad named for
the painter that grows in intensity over a repeated ground,
and “Show Him Some Lub,” the seven-minute album-closer that
incorporates a recitation of names and places that provide
clues to the performers’ identities—a shrewd and moving work.
Byron, who just finished a stint as an artist-in-residence
at UAlbany, is a restless, eclectic composer and performer
whose work ranges from innovative jazz sessions to a tribute
album to Spike Jones alumnus (and cut-up in his own right)
Mickey Katz. Joining forces with Bang on a Can is one of those
combinations that makes a whole lot of sense, as BOAC are
a similarly restless, classically tinged ensemble always seeking
to stretch the boundaries of formal compositions.
The six performers are talented (and therefore busy) players—some
time ago I wrote glowingly about pianist Lisa Moore’s recording
of Frederic Rzewski’s music, and she’s equally effective as
part of this ensemble, which also includes Evan Ziporyn on
reeds, cellist Wendy Sutter, Mark Stewart on guitars, bassist
Robert Black and drummer David Cossin. Byron joins them on
a few cuts as well, including a track titled “Silver Wings”
in “Red-Tailed Angels,” itself an arrangement of “He Wears
a Pair of Silver Wings,” and scored very effectively for two
clarinets and cello.
Back before the massive record-industry mergers, you’d find
BOAC recordings on a major label; they seem much more happily
ensconced on their own Cataloupe Music label, and brought
in renowned audio engineer (and longtime Byron collaborator)
Tom Lazarus for this recording. It sounds great, which is
good: You’ll want to listen to it repeatedly in order to coax
some of the hidden treasures that only familiarity can bring.