Is for Vagina (Puscifer Entertainment)
Tool frontman Maynard James Keenan has listened to industrial
beat- and sleaze-masters Revolting Cocks and Pigface. Good
for him. Keenan also has built a side project called Puscifer
that reproduces the style of the Cocks and Pigface minus any
true grit or lyrical inspiration. Bad for him, and bad for
anyone who shells out money for this tepid, uninspired trash.
Is for Vagina apes industrial bands of old but manages
to leave out all the juicy tidbits. Replacing his singing
voice with a deep, spoken-word intonation, Keenan talks of
“thick ladies” and what they do with their “saddlebags.” At
times it seems Keenan is trying to channel Skinny Puppy’s
Nivek Ogre or Ministry’s Al Jourgensen, but Keenan’s lyrics
lack the finesse, cleverness and snarl of Ogre, and the grizzled-junkie
lashing of Jourgensen. The whole affair just feels goofy.
How goofy? Think Vanilla Ice’s Hard to Swallow, his
late ’90s attempt at a comeback via nü-metal. (It is hard
to believe there was ever any nü-metal more embarrassing than
Limp Bizkit, but the ice man brought it. “Too cold! Too cold!”
But I digress.)
If Keenan needed an outlet for his down-and-dirty side, he
should have tried actually experimenting with the emotional
and artistic range of his main band. Keenan can do sexy, just
not over bad drum programming and goofy chanting. V
feels like listening to your live-at-home 20-something-year-old
friend talk about fingering girls in the clean, white confines
of his dad’s basement; it’s awkward and pathetic. And as you
can imagine, it’s ripe with all that familiar misogyny your
live-at-home friend spouts, too.
The only highlight of this very low-aiming affair is “Rev.
22:20,” a remix of a track already made available on some
god-awful horror-movie soundtrack (Underworld: Evolution).
Maynard manages to slip back into his slinky singing voice
here, and it, like Tool’s classic “Sober,” could help awkward
teens seduce awkward teens everywhere, were it not placed
at the end of the record—far too deep into an album dominated
by uninspired drivel for any sane person to wallow through.
Besides, how many teenagers give a shit about what Keenan
has to say these days anyway?
Nastasia & Jim White
Follow Me (Fatcat)
This set of 10 songs in a duo setting has all of the exuberant
sense of discovery associated with jazz pairings, and none
of the rote mannerisms to often found in folk-volume guitar-based
music. Nina Nastasia’s voice and guitar already have a liquidity
that allow her melodic sensibility to swoop around and through
the strumming and picking. Her guitar offers up, by turns,
rhythmically muscular chords and quietly shimmering note-by-note
articulations. Drummer Jim White (of Dirty Three) is less
an additive to these songs than an essential component; he
moves easily between foundation work and giddy rooftop filigree.
On “Odd Said the Doe,” his swirling rolls add an emotional
bearing, the song spilling out of itself, and throughout White
inhabits the core of the song like a second singer. Beholden
to nothing other than their own artistic inclinations, these
songs straddle genres, discarding labels to be defined only
by the 31 minutes they traverse.
Complete Lionel Hampton Victor Sessions 1937-1941(Mosaic)
Vibraphonist Lionel Hampton became a sudden star in 1936 when
Benny Goodman featured him in a quartet. Soon after that,
Victor Records invited Hampton to record a small-group session
under his own name, so Hampton brought a bunch of Goodman
band members into the studio and laid down four memorable
tracks. A phenomenon was born.
It was hot, joyous and relatively short-lived. Twenty-three
sessions over the next four years yielded about four tunes
apiece. In terms of jazz interest, some are more successful
than others, but even the most negligible of them are still
entertaining. And the peaks are impressive indeed.
Much of the material was collected late in the LP days, but
only sporadic CD issues have seen the light of day. Mosaic
Records’ new five-CD set collects the totality of those Hampton
sessions, and with that company’s trademark thoroughness presents
superior transfers of the original material along with all
known alternate takes.
Personnel also were drawn from the bands of Duke Ellington,
Stuff Smith, Count Basie and others, and the sessions benefitted
from having players already accustomed to working together.
Sessions in April 1937, for example, featured Ellington sideman
Johnny Hodges, whose “On the Sunny Side of the Street” became
a hit and has endured as a classic.
In July 1938, Hampton put together a session that drew from
no one single band: A young, dynamic Benny Carter played reeds
and provided arrangements, Harry James was on trumpet, and
Billy Kyle, John Kirby and Jo Jones populated the rhythm section
to produce jumping tunes like “I’m in the Mood for Swing”
and a revamping of the chestnut “Muskrat Ramble.”
Even more spectacular recordings emerged in 1939, when such
luminaries as tenor-sax wizard Chu Berry played on several
sessions. The trumpet seat changed from date to date, but
always with high-quality talent like Ziggy Elman, Rex Stewart
and, late in the year, Dizzy Gillespie.
Pianists included Nat “King” Cole (in some of his earliest
recordings), Sir Charles Thompson, Clyde Hart and, in the
earliest sessions, Goodman stalwart Jess Stacy, whose understated
playing is always a fascinating journey through Art Tatum-like
Hampton took the vocal refrains early on in the series, in
a light, pleasing but forgettable voice—“Baby, Won’t You Please
Come Home” is an absolute nadir—but soon yielded to more talented
singers like Helen Forrest and Cole.
Detailed, informative program notes by Loren Schoenberg offer
a historical perspective of the sessions, and then give a
track-by-track analysis that nicely enhances enjoyment of
the music. And enjoy it you will. This is an indispensable
gem from the swing era, lovingly remastered to the kind of
quality Mosaic’s reissues consistently deliver.