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Eat This

Gay Tastee
Gayest Hits [Volumes One and Two] (Hoex)

Gay Tastee is the stage and
studio name of the artist still sometimes known as Stephen Gaylord, longtime purveyor of fine scabrous rock in these parts, both as a solo artist and with such outfits as the Wasted (his current band), Beef, the Paraquat Earth Band and MacArthur Parker. Gayest Hits [Volumes One and Two] provides a devastatingly intense overview of his output from 1990 to 1999, with 15 slices of 4-track woodshed wonders strung out over two long-players. While many of the songs on Gayest Hits may be familiar to followers of Gaylord’s various bands (all of them, except for “Webcor” and “Seeds and Stems” have seen some glimmers of the light of day on earlier recordings, and the latter of those two numbers was a Beef live staple), they’ve not been readily available in such stripped down, austere versions before.

The lean and (sorta) clean production ethos on Gayest Hits puts heavy emphasis squarely on Gaylord’s guitar, vocals and (most of all) songwriting, as there’s not a lot of room to hide behind the occasional bass, drums, cello and sundries offered by Gaylord’s anonymous collaborators (all of them “protected” in the credits by their properly designated “gay names,” Bee Tastee, Gay Richie, X Tastee, Gay Semen, etc.). No surprise, if you’ve ever paid attention to Gaylord’s work, that this lo-fi, song-based approach reveals all sorts of marvels and miracles and mayhem and madness, as biblical martyrs juke it out with Hitler wannabes and cirrhotic wife beaters, and a whole damned community of life-impaired tragic heroes and endearing villains sink ever closer to oblivion in a slurry of ditchweed and serotonin and bathtub gin.

It ain’t easy to write lyrics like Gaylord’s, and it’s especially difficult to write such short-form American tragedies well, but Mister Tastee is a master at this sort of stuff, revealing the last dying cinders of pathos beneath his characters’ bluster and bluff, reviling their unfortunate and seemingly preordained circumstances, even as he lovingly details the squalor in which they churn—delivering it all in a raw and ragged voice that oscillates between wail and croak, nailing the sweet points between ’em just often enough to keep you listening. Toss some surprisingly spry guitar work into the mix, and you’ve got yourself one stunning, strong, sometimes shocking, often sublime record from an artist with a unique vision—and an equally unique talent for presenting it to the public, whether it’s capable of digesting it or not.

—J. Eric Smith

The Pretenders
Loose Screw (Artemis)

Even at their most accessible, the Pretenders have never been easy. Akron, Ohio, native Chrissie Hynde’s lyrics can be cutting, even bitchy, and the range of styles the Pretenders have tried on in its 25-year career can be diffuse. There’s been pop, hard rock, reggae, even techno—a versatility that doesn’t always add up to cohesiveness. Even though most of the seven albums the Pretenders released on Warner Bros. in their 19-year career were winners, Hynde, guitarist Adam Seymour, bassist Andy Hobson and drummer Martin Chambers haven’t notched a hit since the mid-’90s (when the configuration was different, too: The incendiary Pretenders No. 1, with James Honeyman-Scott on guitar and Pete Farndon on bass, lasted a little more than a year, and since then, rhythm-guitarist-vocalist Hynde and her most regular mate, Chambers, have gone through several guitarists and bassists). Their commercial success likely won’t change with Loose Screw, the band’s debut on the Artemis label, particularly since they aren’t doing much to publicize their seven-week U.S. tour. That’s radio’s loss: Loose Screw, a kind of suite of songs alternating laceration of self with laceration of significant others, is one of the best Pretenders albums. Crafted taut and shiny by British dance producers Kevin Bacon and Jonathan Quarmby, it’s packed with sharp tunes spanning the slash-and-burn “Fools Must Die,” the pretty pop of “I Should Of,” the languid reggae of “Cleaning Woman,” and a claw-and-purr cover of All Seeing I’s U.K. trip-hop hit “Walk Like a Panther” (which evokes Steve Miller’s “Fly Like an Eagle,” much as “Nothing Breaks Like a Heart” soundchecks Zep’s “D’Yer Mak’er”). At 52, Hynde is singing beautifully, her messages of paranoia and passion eloquent proof of her ability to get us to fuck off and pay attention at the same time.

—Carlo Wolff

Jane Bunnett
Cuban Odyssey (Blue Note)

Canadian saxophonist and flautist Jane Bunnett has been exploring Cuban music since first visiting the island in the early ’80s. During the ’70s, the classically trained pianist and clarinet player was deeply affected by a range of jazz musicians who straddled genres with ease and verve (such as Charles Mingus, Don Pullen and Randy Weston). Cuban Odyssey is the fifth album that she and her husband, trumpet player and producer Larry Cramer, have created with the Spirits of Havana ensemble.

This set marks the first time Bunnett and Cramer have used Cuban musicians from outside of Havana. It is therefore broadened with a range of styles found beyond those urban environs: Folkish sons mingle with traditional danzons and boleros as well as straight-ahead jazz. On the gorgeous opening to “Suite Mantanzas,” Bunnett’s playing embraces the island’s melodic characteristics, a lyricism with underpinnings of rhythmic flair. A pair of originals recorded back home in Toronto frame the set, and they serve to effectively open and close an album that is both a celebration and an homage.

—David Greenberger

Holland Hopson/ James Keepnews
Hunting and Gathering (Metaharmonic)

Improvisation is one of the most challenging musical tightrope acts imaginable, the performance place where artists totter above an abyss of sonic possibilities, trying to find a balance between experimental flights of fancy on one hand and stock comfort vamps on the other, without veering so far in either direction that their work becomes unlistenably knotted or tediously familiar. On Hunting and Gathering, Capital Region expats Holland Hopson (soprano sax and electronics) and James Keepnews (guitar and electronics) prove their mettle as consummate musical high-wire artists, forging 11 challenging improvisational works that touch standard Western musical verities just often enough to make this record one with appeal for dreamscape devotees and structure junkies alike.

Fully improvised direct to ADAT in the studio, Hunting and Gathering sets its own stage with the dramatic, overturelike “Lunchpails” before careening into one of the album’s best cuts, “Iron Wet Paper Money,” which blends Robert Fripp-
flavored guitar spirals and spatters with a freeform Henry Cow-styled sax excursion, all atop a morphing, synthetic rhythm pattern that wouldn’t sound out of place on an Aphex Twin record. “Our Double E D” evokes Fripp comparisons, too, sounding like a great lost sequel to the beautiful “Trio” from King Crimson’s Starless and Bible Black.

“Substation” bubbles with tension and menace and explosive potential energy, while the dramatic “Sephardic” evokes the Middle East in its opening moments, then drifts into peaceful Coltrane territory, then dissolves in a mist of charged electron pops and scalpel scrapings. Album closer “Gyroscopes for Nader” also plows a powerful path from electronic percolation to searing shriekout to total systemic meltdown to silence.

This is how it’s done, children. Take heed and explore.

—J.E.S.


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