You Weren’t Looking (Yep Roc)
her full, rounded alto and the strong batch of songs on While
You Weren’t Looking, Caitlin Cary proves that the precocious,
bed-headed man-child known as Ryan Adams isn’t the only formidable
talent to climb from the ruins of Whiskeytown. Waltzie,
an EP released in 2000, certainly hinted at Cary’s greatness.
But while that effort occupied a relatively narrow realm of
gentle folk-rock (à la Richard and Linda Thompson), this debut
full-length boasts a more varied and dynamic sonic terrain.
For those, like me, sorely disappointed in Adams’ sophomore
effort, Gold, this album is pure salve. More than that,
however, While You Weren’t Looking is strong enough
to shed the ghost of Whiskeytown and catapult Cary into a
realm where any mention of Adams is simply gratuitous.
Cary’s angelic tones (which we heard too little of in Whiskeytown)
and a bevy of talented collaborators spur this album to greatness.
Joining Cary are former Whiskeytown guitarist Mike Daly, who
cowrote most of the material; North Carolina jangle-pop legends
Mitch Easter and Chris Stamey (who produced); Jen Gunderman
of the Jayhawks; Cary’s husband, former Whiskeytown drummer
Skillet Gilmore; and rising alt-country singer Thad Cockrell.
The album begins with the euphoric pop-off “Shallow Heart,
Shallow Water” and “Please Don’t Hurry Your Heart” (cowritten
with Adams), which is the kind of heartfelt alternative country-rock
at which her former group excelled. “Pony” is a great approximation
of Phil Spector-ish production, full of plush harmony vocals
and such Brill Building ephemera as vibes and handclaps, while
“Too Many Keys” is a rich slab of white soul. Cockrell joins
Cary for a great vocal turn on the driving, country-tinged
spine-tingler “Thick Walls Down.”
This album is folky and contemplative when it needs to be,
yet it boasts enough rock, pop and country bite to keep things
cruising delightfully. With While You Weren’t Looking,
I’ve found one of my Top 10 CDs for 2002.
Come Away With Me
Like label-mate Cassandra Wilson, Norah Jones blurs genres,
rendering blues with country licks, jazz with pop fillips,
chanson with a smidgen of rock & roll. Only 22, she’s
a contemporary of Britney Spears and Alicia Keys. But Jones
is far more adult, thanks to her sugar-cured voice and her
spare, resonant piano. On Come Away With Me, the assured,
patient delivery of this Brooklyn-born, Dallas-bred chanteuse
gives unexpected authority to Hank Williams’ “Cold Cold Heart,”
John D. Loudermilk’s funky “Turn Me On” and Hoagy Carmichael’s
wispy “The Nearness of You.” But authority isn’t what makes
Jones’ velvety debut so mesmerizing: It’s originals like the
come-hither title track, the ravishing, gypsy ballad “I’ve
Got to See You Again” (which blends Paris, France, and Paris,
Texas) and “Lonestar,” a haunting tune ideal for a distant,
sexy radio signal. Produced by Arif Mardin (Laura Nyro, the
Bee Gees at their disco best), with a few tracks glossed by
early Cassandra Wilson producer Craig Street, Come Away
With Me is a keeper. Whether it’s jazz or pop doesn’t
matter. What will matter to Jones in the future is the disc’s
sole error: It’s all midtempo. In all other respects, Come
Away With Me is an invitation you can’t turn down.
The 51 songs on Anthology: Solid Zinc chart the surprisingly
broad and resilient career of the Turtles. Their earliest
forays touched on folk rock and even protest music, as well
as straight-ahead garage rock (“Almost There”). Fronted by
two unlikely pop stars, the portly duo of Howard Kaylan and
Mark Volman, the Turtles found continuing fame throughout
the ’70s, singing as Flo & Eddie (most notably with Frank
Zappa). They first charted with Bob Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me Babe”;
subsequently, most of their hits were penned by a range of
songwriters found in the Los Angeles area during the mid-
to late-’60s, including P.F. Sloan, Harry Nilsson, Warren
Zevon and folksinger Judy Sill. Solid Zinc shows Kaylan’s
and Volman’s strengths as writers as well: “Wanderin’ Kind”
stands solidly next to Gene Clark’s lasting Byrds songs, and
“Love in the City” would have been at home on the Zombies’
Odessey & Oracle.
After the commercial peak of “Happy Together,” the Turtles
took ever-more-interesting turns. Pressures mounted from their
label to turn in a continued stream of friendly radio fare,
one result being their own “Elenore”—which made the Top 10
with the delightfully flippant line “You’re my pride and joy,
et cetera.” The band’s last few albums are mature works, with
strong material and inventive arrangements; they even enlisted
Kinks leader Ray Davies to produce Turtle Soup. This
two-disc anthology is a generous portrait of a band who deserve
to be celebrated for more than just their handful of hit songs.
You Know That It’s True
first record is a feast o’ big-foot funk, as true to its target
as a smart bomb. Every single thing is in the right place,
from the Curtis Mayfield chimey and chink-a guitars, to the
call-and-response vocals, to the deep, deep grooves that hold
the whole soulful thing together.
Know That It’s True is vaguely ’70s-oriented, in the way
Funkadelic is—that is to say, you hear it, you recognize it,
but the notion of “retro” doesn’t come into play. There’s
also a punchy second-line Mardi Gras cop on “Here Come Jocamo”
that’s just pure Nevilles, absolutely in the pocket. This
is an incendiary record; every song will light up the room.
Dave Macks’ big, brassy voice is the centerpiece. He’ll slap
me silly for saying this, but his vocal work here is pure
art—when he sings, he flat-out sings; when he croons, he croons.
And the real treats are the throw-away grunts, the James Brown-like
“Heh!” noises and the ad hominem asides that keep pouring
out of him as naturally as sweat. His lyrics are of human
street scenes, goofy romantic imbroglios and inspirational
party chants, and they are true and fun and proud.
The playing is superb and gritty, by Jocamo members Macks,
drummer John Lapi and guitarist Matt Hatfield, as well as
a pile of guesting local luminaries. To quote Rocky the Flying
Squirrel: “Here’s something I think we all can enjoy!”