I Forgot (Columbia)
Pete Yorn’s 2001 debut, Musicforthemorningafter, found
the New Jersey-via-California musician playing DJ at his own
house party, with some very obvious nods to his heroes (Smiths,
Springsteen, Pavement). While a solid debut, Music
felt bloated, and suffered from a lack of focus, resulting
in a difficult front-to-back listen (not to mention the two
“bonus” tracks tacked on after the initial 14—doesn’t anybody
edit themself anymore?).
On Yorn’s latest, Day I Forgot, track 13 is left blank.
Seems he’s a little superstitious about trying to avoid the
ol’ sophomore slump in the wake of all the hype surrounding
the first record. Good news: He does. Day I Forgot
is a more refined and satisfying collection than Music,
buoyed by a wealth of strong tunes and R Walt Vincent’s no-frills
(relatively few, at least) production. Yorn again plays most
of the instruments, with help from a few high-profile bit
players (Peter Buck, Josh Freese). His crackly baritone—think
J Mascis and Lou Barlow melted into an indie-rock fondue—is
an inviting instrument, and it’s surrounded by layers of guitars
and vocal harmonies for a thick, but not claustrophobic, sound.
The results are sonically similar to Music with much
of the self-indulgent fat trimmed away.
The only missteps on Day I Forgot occur when
Yorn tries to break out of his comfort zone. The stellar chorus
of “Burrito” seems surgically attached to its lackluster verse—it
sounds like two wholly different songs, and probably should
have been. “Carlos” travels a similar path, riding a cut-rate
Zep groove down the short road to monotony. Either (or both)
of these tracks could have been omitted to the record’s benefit—and
would have saved Yorn the trouble of dealing with that pesky
However, the hero worship is kept to a minimum here, rather
emphasizing Yorn’s propensity for penning strummy, midtempo
pop-rockers and contemplative ballads (see lead single “Come
Back Home” for an example of the former, “Turn of the Century”
for the latter). In fact, he acknowledges his past role-playing
on the brief intro that opens the album: “I could have been
somebody else, but now I’m me this time.” Throughout Day
I Forgot, pensive and deeply personal lyrics are wrapped
around simple melodies to great effect, as on the father-son
rumination “All at Once” (“the old man in the kitchen, I think
he’s part of me”), and every last song has a hook to die for.
Ultimately, Day I Forgot is a consistent and largely
rewarding album. If Yorn continues to hone his craft, album
number three could propel him to “great songwriter” status.
In the meantime, he’s made himself another pretty darn good
Beautiful Isle of Somewhere
(Tradition & Moderne)
Recorded live in BremEn, Germany, in 1999, the live Beautiful
Isle of Somewhere captures Geoff Muldaur a couple years
into his return to active performing and recording. While
Muldaur’s shows are normally interspersed with colorful introductions
to the material, offering context and personal anecdote along
the way, he skipped the approach in Bremen, owing to the language
divide. Sticking to just the songs, the album’s a robust 65
minutes that include many of the numbers that have become
a part of his core repertoire. From the title song to Blind
Willie Johnson’s “Trouble Soon Be Over,” Muldaur freely mingles
genres and eras for a rich blend that flows like one man’s
vision. Accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, he plays
with the flair and dramatics of the arranger that he also
is. Muldaur’s voice, which has been a marvel of an instrument
since first committed to tape in the ’60s, is at a peak. As
he glides in and out of falsetto on “The Wild Ox Moan,” it
calls in every goose bump within a hundred miles.
Love You Just the Same
Centro-matic make a joyous noise that’s all indie—guitar grumble,
lightly twinkled piano (like notes falling down a staircase),
Will Johnson’s emotive whine and a drummer who vacillates
between the powerful certainty of John Bonham and the soulful
funk of Levon Helm. Sometimes it all comes off like the Pavement
of “Summer Babe,” feeding a jones for Crazy Horse. However,
that comparison, while perhaps capturing the group’s essence,
never quite gets across their originality or earnest beauty.
(Though, like early-’90s Pavement, the less consciously clever
Centro-matic are ripe for discovery, whether it’s by the indie-rock
hipsterati or a lucky few.)
This is actually the seventh full-length album from the Denton,
Texas, underground heroes. Leader Johnson is intimidatingly
prolific: He’s recorded 200 songs since 1996 (with Centro-matic
and various outside projects). But don’t feel like you missed
the boat; there’s some strict quality control, and the compelling,
rough-hewn beauty of Love You Just the Same is vintage
and Cables” works itself up from a plaintively quiet opening
to a grand landscape of tumbling, pretty piano notes, cascading
drums, expansive cymbal splashes and steady guitar grind.
Johnson hovers above it all with his euphoric “Ba-Ba-Da-Da-Dum”’s.
And that’s the thing with this group: No matter the starting
point, there’s usually a breathtakingly melodic plunge. It’s
a gorgeous sleight of hand.
The Five A.M. Strut
Ezra Weiss, a 24-year-old pianist from Phoenix with a bachelor’s
degree in composition from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music,
has released a solid, swinging debut album any seasoned jazz
artist would be proud of. The uniformly memorable tunes span
the harmonically inventive, propulsive “Symmetrics”; the goofy,
Kurt Weill-influenced “The Clown Feature”; and “I Regret,”
an elegiac ballad.
Weiss, who lives and works in Portland, Ore., studied composition
with Wendell Logan (the bouncy, boppish “One for Wendell”
suggests an unusually warm relationship) and piano with Neal
Creque and Dan Wall at Oberlin. Weiss’ prowess on both easily
explains how he could put together so expert a group. Also
signaling his achievement: Weiss won the 2002 ASCAP Young
Jazz Composer Award.
Antonio Hart plays gorgeous alto sax, Kelly Roberge biting
tenor. Drummer Billy Hart’s grooves span New Orleans second
line and early Horace Silver, underlining the taut bass of
Leon Lee Dorsey. Michael Philip Mossman, one of the tarter
young trumpeters, gives Weiss’ surprisingly distinctive tunes
their modern edge.
Weiss has absorbed the lessons of bop: attention to form,
interesting and well-placed vamps, subordination of ego to
composition. “One for Wendell” and the shapely “For the Youngins,”
which Weiss wrote for his own students, are the most traditional
and bluesy tracks here, and they’re by no means slavish.
It’s hard to pin down what makes Weiss’ music so distinctive.
Perhaps it’s that even in the ballads, the tone is upbeat,
the outlook positive. The way Weiss writes—passionately, wittily
and with respect for his fellow musicians—attests to his talent
and appetite for creativity, and suggests a long, enjoyable