With the new year, I've chosen to take on a new challenge: Namely a weekly review column I've christened with the title of a classic Bob Dylan track. The name appealed to me on a number of levels, which makes sense as I'm a multi-leveled guy.
Since I’ll be covering new releases in this space, the “release” double entendre seemed to fit nicely within the context of what I want to accomplish here.
Another focus of this column will be to review old vinyl from my collection. One of my recent ongoing projects has been the Herculean effort of burning my vinyl onto CD. I have one turntable in my home and it happens to reside in my basement office — which I've affectionately dubbed The Bunker — and it seems that I have become less inclined to spend my leisure minutes in my workspace, which means if I’m going to use my discretionary listening time revisiting the old flat, black and circulars, I’m going to have to transfer them to CD and listen to them in the car or the living room.
Given the ever-increasing age of my albums, the vintage Bob Dylan title also satisfied the Jurassic time frame I’ll likely be covering in talking about my dusty old 33-1/3rds. (Does anyone remember when we used to talk about dusty old 78s? I have some of those as well, but I’ll spare you from reviewing them.)
Lastly, I will occasionally utilize this forum to review live shows that I'm fortunate enough to witness. I certainly don’t get out with the frequency that I did in my twenties and thirties, and as a full-time freelance writer I'm often called upon to burn the midnight oil to make a deadline, which sadly cuts into my club time. And, let’s be honest: I happen to enjoy spending time with my wife and daughter. And yet there are occasions when I like to clear a little rust out of the pipes and see a show, and as this occurs I'll take the opportunity to write about these sporadic episodes in this space.
Given the emotional and economic chains that bind me to my home environment, the other definition of “release” tweaked my aesthetic sensibility.
• That said, this is a barren time of year for new releases.
The Gourds recently release their new album Haymaker!
The two that I have spun are Haymaker!, the new one from The Gourds, and I Think We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat, the debut from The BPA, the new Fatboy Slim project.
In boxing parlance, a haymaker is a knockout punch, and that’s what The Gourds deliver here. Kicking off with the raucous John-Hiatt-fronts-Los-Lobos workout of “Country Love” and moving straight into the Doug-Sahm-swings-with-NRBQ jaunt of “Fossil Contender,” The Gourds show that they’ve fine tuned the broad spectrum they presented on last year’s Noble Creatures. “Hey Thurman” folds a little Randy-Newman-on-wry into the mix, “Luddite Juice” pubs and clubs like early Elvis Costello, and Country doesn’t come any countrier than “Valentine.”
Like their last few albums and their frenetic live show, Haymaker! finds The Gourds assembling a set of songs that plays like a brilliantly balanced, paced and sequenced mix tape that just happens to be executed by the same amazingly adaptable band.
On I Think We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat, Norman Cook -- better known to the world at large as Fatboy Slim -- and his studio collaborator Simon Thornton, this time cloaking themselves in a new moniker (The Brighton Port Authority, or The BPA) have concocted an atmospheric funkatronica workout with an amazing guest list of vocalists. Iggy Pop growls in familiar fashion while the BPA cranks out a Housemartins Pop approximation of The Stooges at a Ska festival on “He’s Frank,” while Martha Wainwright warbles appropriately over the BPA’s Dub Reggae soundtrack on “Spade.” David Byrne sings and Dizzee Rascal raps with urban Soul/Hip Hop abandon on the album’s single, “Toe Jam,” and Olly Hite’s soulful croon is the perfect complement to the loping Funk Pop arrangement of Nick Lowe’s “So It Goes.” (That's Slim and friends in the top photo.)
• I've burned a few albums this week, among them being the Eric Idle/Neil Innes soundtrack to their Rutland Weekend Television series, The Rutland Weekend Songbook, which was one of my faves from 1976 (appealing to my unrepentant Monty Python id); a couple of old Dave Mason albums (including It’s Like You Never Left, which I used to have on 8-track until I played it literally to death in my car); and Don’t Mind Rockin’ Tonite, a quasi-greatest hits album from British Pub Rock minor legends Ducks Deluxe, whose membership included eventual Rumour guitarist Martin Belmont and neglected New Wave/Pop elf Sean Tyla. It’s all good stuff, but time and circumstance prevent me from the fuller reviewage I intend for this section. It’ll get meatier as my schedule settles into a 2009 kind of rhythm. Suffice it to say, I’ll rarely cover anything here that I truly don’t like. It all goes back to my grandmother’s admonition to say something nice or nothing at all.
• And with the holidays barking up my Christmas tree, no ho ho shows were attended recently, so I’ll just use this space to salute the late, great Ron Asheton. Few guitarists have so altered the Rock landscape as he did with just two earthshaking albums, The Stooges and the immortal Fun House; the effects of those two masterworks are being felt yet today and will continue to resonate with budding guitarists for a good many years to come. I wish we could have had a few more years of the Stooges reunion, but if there's any solace in Ron’s passing it's in the fact that the band put aside differences that kept them apart for 30 years and simply wailed on The Weirdness like they’d never been apart. Wherever you are, Ron, it’s sure that you‘re blowing amps and minds just like you did here. Go in peace.
CONTACT BRIAN BAKER: firstname.lastname@example.org