Column 86 — Reviews again; Live Review: Bill Latham, Fishboy…

Category: Blog — @ 12:32 pm July 27, 2006

I originally intended to write about the Breckenridge music scene for this week’s column. Here’s the result…

Column 86: Fall Back, Stagger Forward
Sometimes retro works, sometimes it doesn’t.

If there’s a theme to this collection of CD reviews it’s “retro.” At least half of these records contain music inspired — for better or worse — by an era gone by. What’s that old adage: There’s nothing new about rock music — it all feeds off the corpses of its betters. That may be true, but how a band takes and makes that rich, smelly compost its own is what defines it for its own generation — a generation that’s oh so quick to forget the one that came before it.
Eric Bachmann, To The Races (Saddle Creek) — There’s a painful, almost sadly scary tone to Bachmann’s songwriting, whether solo or with Crooked Fingers. Listening to the words too closely will take you to dark places that he knows too well. That sweet lullaby is really a cry of longing from someone who knows exactly what loneliness is (He wrote this album while living in the back of his van, presumably down by the river). The best acoustic set since Joni was doing this back in the ’60s, easily one of the best CDs so far this year, and a smart, smart addition by our proud local label. Rating: Yes
Now It’s Overhead, Dark Light Daybreak (Saddle Creek) — Andy LeMaster’s spacey, echoing head-space production was just what we were looking for on his band’s ’01 debut and follow-up Fall Back Open. Now it’s getting kind of tired, especially when he stays stuck in the same ol’ mid-tempo roll, even on the harder rockers like “Walls” that sound like everything we’ve heard before. Their recent guttural live set at Sokol Underground is the direction they should be heading instead of this all too familiar road. Rating: No
Pet Shop Boys, Fundamental (Rhino) — They’re calling it a return to form for these ’80s gay-dance-club icons. Wish it was. Fans will recognize the usual thump-thump-thump, the blurting priss-synth tones, and Neil Tennant’s always inviting runway croon. But missing is the charm from the earlier recordings (even the overlooked late ’90s Sire releases), instead opting for disco camp on songs like the in-your-face “The Sodom and Gomorrah Show,” the retro single “I’m With Stupid,” and the drama-bloat ballads “Numb” and “Luna Park.” Where’s the mystery, boys, where’s the fun? Rating: No
The Rye Coalition, Curses (Gern Blandsten) — Proof that this is the genuine article: Playing it in my car resulted in my girlfriend saying, “Yuck… this sounds like all that heavy metal crap from the ’70s.” Exactly! It’s difficult — nay impossible — to pull this off without sounding camp, but somehow these guys do it, right down to the tasteless girl-covered-in-tar-and-feathers cover art. Pure Kiss meets Nugent meets AC/DC meets Kiss balls-to-the-wall rock with song titles like “Between An I-ROC and a Hard Place” and “Vietnam Veterinarian.” What more do you want; what more do you need? Rating: Yes
Towers of London, Blood Sweat & Towers (TVT) — The brick-thick cockney accent says ‘we’re London punk-thugs,’ but their music betrays a Hollywood and Vine sensitivity last heard from those tender G’n’R boys. Forget about those dark Thatcher days — they’re long gone and these native Liverpooleans and Buckinghamshire-ites are too young to remember them anyway. I’m sure they’d be plenty angry if they had something to be angry about. Blistering rock, but as hard and fast as they play, I still prefer the pretty banjo version of “F**K It Up” that begs you to sing along, and you will. Rating: Yes
Paul Simon, Surprise (Warner Bros) — Mr. 100-Year-Old’s fusion with Brian Eno is well-documented, and well done. Eno adds the depth and sonic interest that Simon hasn’t had since he went to Africa in the mid-’80s. I could do without the cloying fatherhood numbers (“Father and Daughter” “Beautiful”) and the God overtones (“Outrageous”), but there’s still more than enough Me and Julio-style storytelling to go around. And his voice never sounded better. Rating: Yes
Frank Black, Fast Man, Raider Man (Back Porch) — Of course we all only want the best for ol’ Frank because we’re all Pixies fans at heart (I still insist they were the most influential band of the ’90s). But Frank has consistently disappointed on his own, and this massive two-CD collection of thin, wandering ditties is no exception. It’s not that he doesn’t rock — he certainly tries to, in a bluesy, honky-tonk sort of way — it’s that he rocks boring. And taken over 27 tracks, that’s a whole lot of boring. What happened to that Pixies reunion? Rating: No
The Rosewood Thieves, From the Decker House (V2) — New York singer/songwriter Erick Jordan would be happy if you compared his snarling voice to John Lennon’s, even though he and his cohorts lean closer to twangy Steve Wynn territory. These simple indie folk-rock ditties, like EP closer “Lonesome Road,” are breathy love songs with warm hooks, hand claps, ragtime piano and lots of ewwss thrown in for good measure. Produced by Thom Monahan (The Pernice Bros., Devandra Banhart). Rating: Yes

I dropped off a handful of CDs last night for intern Brendan at O’Leaver’s (he wasn’t there anyway) and walked in half-way through Bill Latham’s set. Bill Latham a.k.a. Bill Donuts formerly Cog Factory staple Corporate Donuts was standing alongside the bar with his guitar, serenading the audience with his clever old-school folk ditties. There was a time when a number of local musicians were doing this sort of Woody Guthrie-esque folk. Now it seems there’s only Latham, who has more than enough story-telling firepower to fill the gap by himself. Energetic, funny…. and smart. After one of his political numbers, he turned to the crowd of a dozen people or so, many of them his friends, and said, “If any of you sign up (for military service) I’ll fucking kill you.” Who needs Conor Oberst for pithy political commentary? Why doesn’t this guy play more often (or why don’t I know about it when he does)?

Mr. Donuts was followed by Fishboy, a Denton, Texas, 4-piece fronted by Eric Michener, who looked like a young, thinner version of Jason Schwartzman (the guy from ’90s classic film “Rushmore” and the woefully overlooked “I Heart Huckabees”). Eric and Co. sounded like a modern (and better) version of Violent Femmes (a band that I never liked despite trying). They rocked, thanks to their amazing drummer, their multi-instrumental keyboard player (Is that a French Horn? Is that a trumpet? Is that a cow bell?) and Michener’s fetching nasal croon and windmill-kick acoustic guitar licks. I dug Fishboy, and so did the tiny crowd. I should have bought a Fishboy T-shirt, but I don’t think they had any (I didn’t see any)… You Chicago readers should check him out as he’ll be in your town for the next few days. Check out his tour schedule, listen to a few tunes and read some funny comix (including one that recaps the origin of his name) at his cool website.

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