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KRCC’s Delvin Neugebauer reviews new releases from Brave Irene, The Fleshtones, Holly Golightly & the Brokeoffs, J Mascis, Jonny and Kurt Vile. All the albums reviewed are recent additions to KRCC’s music library. Tune in to any of the Music Mix programs on KRCC to hear these new releases.
Led by guitarist/vocalists Rose Melberg and Caitlin Gilroy, Brave Irene (named after a children’s book) delivers a classic pop-rock sound: a blend of briskly strummed and jangling guitars, swirling Farfisa organ and straightforward, propulsive rhythms. (The Vancouver, BC-based quintet is rounded out by keyboardist Jessica Wilkin, bassist/vocalist Amanda Pezzutto and drummer Laura Hatfield.) On top of the energetic, psych/garage-inflected music, the group’s sweet, airy three-part vocal harmonies carry its short, melodic songs over the top. Melberg and Gilroy write simple songs with a concerned yet confident viewpoint. The protagonist of “River to Sea” tells her partner, “Maybe you’re the stronger of us two/I break under your weight/So give me room to do something new.” In the upbeat “Tangled Line,” she re-assures a friend in the face of ongoing strain: “We are bound, but we are one/This tangled line will be undone.” “Bank Holiday” is a brief, winsome tale of romantic hopes: “I walked all this way/And forgot that it was a bank holiday/Nothing was open/Still I was hopin’/I might see you/Wandering too.” The singers list all the difficulties and issues to be faced on the “Longest Day,” and conclude that they’re all worthwhile, because the day is “Just long enough/To fall in love.” With eight songs clocking in at under 18 minutes, Brave Irene is a quick, fleeting pleasure. But it’s one that the listener will want to enjoy repeatedly.
Brooklyn Sound Solution
This isn’t a reunion effort; guitarist Keith Streng and keyboardist/vocalist Peter Zaremba have kept The Fleshtones going steadily for 35 years now. The band did enjoy a somewhat higher profile in the Eighties, thanks largely to Zaremba’s stints hosting various alternative-rock programs on MTV. But The Fleshtones never have lost their passion for the sound and spirit of classic rock & roll. This comes through clearly on their latest CD, Brooklyn Sound Solution, recorded with Patti Smith Group guitarist Lenny Kaye. That spirit shines especially brightly in the instrumentals (which make up half the disc). Their rendition of the 1962 Mel Tormé hit “Comin’ Home Baby,” “Back Beat #1,” Kaye’s own “Lost on Xandu,” the instrumental versions of The Beatles’ “Day Tripper” and Ted Taylor’s “You Give Me Nothing to Go On” (a version with a vocal also appears here) and especially the lusty, sax-driven stomp “Solution #2” are rave-ups in the finest rock & roll tradition. This fidelity, of course, has its risks: the borrowing doesn’t just stop with the covers. The organ hook in “Comin’ Home Baby” mimics the guitar riff in the Yardbirds’ “Heart Full of Soul”; the rhythm and bass line of “I Wish You Would” is lifted straight from the Doors’ “Break On Through.” Still, on this brief outing (twelve songs in under a half-hour), The Fleshtones deliver the goods regardless of where they got them.
Holly Golightly & the Brokeoffs
No Help Coming
Holly Golightly has been active in the indie-rock world for two decades now, recording and touring with other artists and releasing more than a dozen albums of her own material. No Help Coming is the British-born singer/guitarist’s fourth album with her “band,” the Brokeoffs actually a duo of Golightly and multi-instrumentalist Lawyer Dave. (Oh, and yes, Capote/Hepburn fans, that’s her real name at least her real first and middle name; her last name is Smith.) The disc offers a raw, edgy mixture of backwoods country, folk and blues. The title track gets things off to a sprightly start, with lots of rattly percussion around the edges, as if Holly and Dave decided to start smacking anything handy to add to the recording. “The Rest of Your Life,” “Here Lies My Love” and the vaguely Kurt Weill-flavored “Burn, Oh Junk Pile, Burn” are gloomy, spooky ballads. “The Whole Day Long” is a cheating song. The duo draws inspiration from some of country music’s most time-honored subjects. “You’re Under Arrest” is a back-porch country tune about drinking and driving: “I’m on the side of the road/And I have to walk this line/Trying to touch my nose/Let’s see how this goes.” In the waltz-time “Lord Knows We’re Drinking,” the singers dress down a “self-righteous woman” who’s been caught sneaking into a bar. Set to banjo and slide guitar, “The Whole Day Long” is a resigned woman’s rather weary song about cheating: “You call when you know he’s gone … Hang your hat/You know he won’t be back/Help yourself the whole day long.” The sad break-up song “The Only One” offers a sweet melody and robust overdubbed female harmonies, as if the Shirelles had gone all O Brother Where Art Thou? “River of Tears” is another lovely number, with a delicate vocal, gorgeous harmonies, and slightly Celtic-sounding pipes and strings. The disc’s final track, “L.S.D. (Rock ‘n’ Roll Prison),” opens with echoey, spacy vocals from Dave, like a bad drug trip, before sliding into a rollicking country-rock number with some severe tremelo on the guitar break. No Help Coming is a great album for music lovers who enjoy a certain twisted flavor to their country and blues.
Several Shades of Why
Whether he’s playing with a roaring rock band or taking the unplugged approach, J Mascis’s voice is instantly unmistakable. It’s the same sleepy, throaty drawl that fans have known since his earliest recordings with Dinosaur Jr. His songwriting style is pretty distinctive too. It might seem to meander, if you’re listening casually, but that’s likely just his lazy-sounding voice playing tricks on you. (Several of the song titles “Is It Done,” “Where Are You,” “Can I,” “What Happened” make it seem like it’s just too much to expect Mascis to find the energy to write question marks.) Given a bit more attention, Mascis’ unerring devotion to melodies and his sense of structure become more apparent. Several Shades of Why is mostly acoustic; only the occasional tambourine pops up to drive the tempo along, and electric guitar doesn’t make an appearance until almost halfway through the disc. The title track is a lovely mix of finger-picked and strummed guitars, with violin sending the song home. “Not Enough” and “Where Are You” feature some very pleasing vocal harmonies; the latter adds some electric solos plus a touch of noisy, crackly feedback at the very end, in case the singing voice isn’t enough of a reminder that this is J Mascis you’re listening to. The artist lays down some tasty electric leads on “Is It Done” and “Can I,” not to mention a terrific acoustic guitar solo to close out the latter track. “Make It Right” features some lovely flute accents, along with some musical saw at the end. The disc-closing “What Happened” is where Mascis piles it all on: layers of strummed acoustic and phased electric guitars, multi-tracked violins and noisy, grinding electric chords working their way up from underneath the surface, like the unwelcome answer to the title itself. Several Shades of Why is a good late-night album from an artist who never fails to convince you that he knows that weary, woozy late-night feel intimately, whether he’s rocking out or just strumming his acoustic guitar.
Jonny is the collaborative debut by two of British pop’s more accomplished melodicists of the past twenty years: Teenage Fanclub singer/guitarist Norman Blake and former Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci singer/keyboardist Euros Childs. If you’re a fan of either band, you’ve either already clued into this disc, or will be checking it out as soon as you finish this review. If neither group is familiar to you, no matter. Jonny offers 13 tracks with a classic pop sensibility taken straight from the more tuneful bands of the late Sixties and early Seventies a mixture of folkish acoustic guitars (with Blake plugging in the electric from time to time), organ, electric piano and seamless vocal harmonies. If the Nuggets-era bands had come up with a few songs like “Wich Is Wich,” “Goldmine,” “Candyfloss” or “Waiting Around for You,” they probably wouldn’t have been one-hit wonders. “You Was Me,” “The Goodnight” and “Circling the Sun” focus more on Childs and Blake’s more folk-pop approach (and sound a bit closer to Teeange Fanclub as a result), with sunny acoustic guitars and “ba-ba-ba-ba” harmonies. The disc’s only two weak numbers show up in its second half. “Bread” is a silly tribute to bakers, with music-hall-style piano and a falsetto lead vocal. “Cave Dance” starts out as a great song that would’ve fit perfectly on some ‘70s Saturday morning cartoon show; after the two-minute mark, though, the track continues on for another nine minutes of pulsing keyboards and vocal chants. Accomplished, sure, but pretty likely to make the listener hit the Skip button. The CD’s final three tracks, though, definitely will keep the listener’s attention: the folkish “I Want to Be Around You,” the country-skiffle of “I’ll Make Her My Best Friend” and the gentle piano elegy “Never Alone.” Jonny will be a treat to fans of either Teenage Fanclub or Gorky’s, or to anyone else who appreciates a good dose of pop music. Here’s hoping that Blake and Childs continue to work together, because it’s a pretty fruitful partnership so far.
Smoke Ring for My Halo
Smoke Ring for My Halo is the fourth long-player from Philadelphia-based singer/guitarist Kurt Vile. His songs on this disc have a moody, introspective feel, and he delivers them with a mix of acoustic and electric guitars, spooky keyboards and sparse rhythms (mostly electronic percussion, which makes the trap drums on songs like “Puppet to the Man” jump out all the more) and his own languid, bluesy voice. All the instruments seem to work their way out toward the listener through a thick fog of echo and reverb. “Jesus Fever” is an upbeat, immediately appealing song, carried by acoustic guitar and string quartet; it features an oddly chorded break and an air of casual resignation in the lyric: “You can write my life down in a little book/When I’m already gone … When I’m a ghost, I see no reason to run/When I’m already gone.” “Puppet to the Man” is a bluesy electric number with a Stonesy swagger. In “On Tour,” a slow, two-chord song with electric piano accents, Vile warns, “Watch out for this one/He’ll pump you full of lead/For turning your head wrong/I would know.” The guitarist builds up “Society Is My Friend” with layers of chiming, chilly chords and drops a startlingly fluid guitar solo into “In My Time.” “Runner Ups” and “Peeping Tomboy” both feature finger-picked guitars and lightly tapped percussion; on the latter, Vile spells out a list of contradictory impulses (“I don’t wanna change/But I don’t wanna stay the same … I don’t wanna work/But I don’t wanna sit around … I don’t wanna give up/But I kinda wanna lie down”) before asking, “Gimme a break/How much does it really take?” Smoke Ring for My Halo is a low-key gem that will draw a listener into its slow-building, murky grandeur.
Contact the reviewer at firstname.lastname@example.org.