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He Writes the Songs

By David Greenberger

Kris Kristofferson

Please Don’t Tell Me How the Story Ends: The Publishing Demos 1968-72

There is no shortage of releases that detail aspects of an artist’s career that only hardcore fans would care about: outtakes, rarities, rough sketches, etc. What sets apart this 16-track collection of Kris Kristofferson’s recordings is simply how good it is on its own terms. One needn’t be a completist or even a longtime follower for this set to resonate. Painstakingly researched and assembled by Michael Simmons, who has devoted his Light in the Attic label to just such endeavors, this set may well be his crowning achievement. Taken in total, the music and the 60-page booklet are a form of portraiture. Simmons sequenced the audio, the notes, and the assorted photographs and ephemera to convey Kristofferson’s efforts and bearing as a young songwriter. None of these recordings ever was intended for release, and the title is up front with that fact. The songs were recorded solo or with small ensembles to be pitched to established recording artists, and the straightforward manner of the performances are all in service to the strengths of each song. No one was trying to polish them, which actually works perfectly with Kristofferson’s dusty and gently barbed writing.

The set opens with his most well-known number, “Me and Bobby McGee,” and its stark presentation makes it easy to appreciate just how deft a wordsmith this onetime Rhodes Scholar can be. There are treasures aplenty, from the fragile beauty of “Come Sundown” to the deceptively simple roadhouse foot-tapper “Slow Down.” Like a poet or novelist, Kristofferson is acutely aware of how an opening line is the front door and needs to be well-considered so it matches the rest of the building, as well as invite a wide array of citizenry to enter. As the best artists do, Kristofferson has expanded the reach of the media in which he’s worked.

 

The Black Keys

Brothers

Rolling Stone recently labeled Jack White “The Decade’s Dirty Bluesman,” but Rolling Stone knows fuck-all about music. The Black Keys are the decade’s real dirty bluesmen. Brothers, the Tarantino-esque new album from the Ohio duo, is flush with sinister ’70s activities, bop, blues, soul, broken hearts, drug references, revenge . . . and tracks that just make you shake it. Where Attack & Release, the Keys’ 2008 album with producer Danger Mouse, felt overproduced and lacked the squealing feedback and string-scraping filth of previous efforts, Brothers sustains the band’s edge while giving them new toys to play with—toys they put to amazing use. Guitarist- vocalist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney both lent their hands in the studio, and the band’s soul quotient is in overdrive, the dirty blues licks in full swing.

Attention-grabbing opener “Everlasting Light” bops along as Auerbach hits high notes in what could be mistaken for an old-time spiritual. The track shows off a new direction for the band—like the O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack mashed up with a modern groove. But on “Next Girl” they show off what brought them. The song sweeps up in radio static, strings and the faint moan of some ancient bluesman before exploding in a Sabbathy swagger, like a Delta blues “War Pigs.”

The album’s first single, “Tighten Up,” features a propulsive swing combined with squealing lead guitar and pulsing organ. It really blows the place to pieces when the bass line rumbles to a funky halt and a Clash-style riff takes over, snapping the track from funky to incensed. “Howling for You” returns to the band’s flirtation with bop, combining Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and T. Rex for something simultaneously eerie and playful, with Danger Mouse-assisted synth lines that just bring the track home.

Brothers works as an album—it sets a unique tone and explores new territory in a way that makes sense for the band. While past Keys records have delivered tracks that likely will never leave my playlist, Brothers is an album that I expect to keep in heavy rotation for years to come, and the soundtrack to a movie I would like to see.

—David King

 

Daughters

Daughters

Rhode Island’s Daughters are a lot like the Elvis Scramble at the Iron Gate Café on State Street in Albany. (Follow me, this plug for a cool local eatery actually works.) The smart Northeasterners in Daughters deliver a hearty, Southern-fried, egg-beater-assisted take on math metal and grindcore so infused with rock and punk and general rock & roll spirit that even those regularly turned off by metal will find themselves shaking their groove thing. That is by no means to say that there is much accessible about the band’s overpowering noise and lead singer Alexis Marshall’s Elvis-meets-Les-Claypool bleat. Daughters’ tweaky guitar work and pulverizing drumming combine into a sound you might imagine would emanate from a Transformer having a seizure. And yet there is a sense of glee and mastery that make the couple-of-minute-long songs undeniably catchy. The band have admitted that they were looking to be a bit more mainstream on this self-titled release, but even their greatest attempt at accessibility (“The Hit”) sounds like a stoner narrating the opening salvo of a nuclear war while watching a July 4th fireworks display. Daughters may have made the metal album of the year—if the noise they make can actually be classified as metal.

—David King


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