Thursday, July 28, 2011

P.J. Proby - P.J. Proby

P.J. Proby
P.J. Proby
Liberty  LRP-3421

When I bought this at Amoeba Records, the woman at the counter snickered at Proby's pageboy haircut.  I could hardly argue with that, although as a teen I wanted the same haircut and never could make it work.  How times have changed, Proby was once a teen heartthrob famous for splitting his pants on stage and now he's the object of ridicule for young record clerks.  My interest in Proby stems entirely from his covering some obscure Beatles songs, one of which is on this album.  Because of his supposedly wild stage appearances and his association with the Beatles and Elvis Presley, I assumed Proby was a rocker, but in fact he's more like a lounge singer.  He has a rich deep voice, he sounds a bit like an Elvis impersonator.  Unless you have a thing for big romantic pop ballads, there is only one reason to own this album, Proby's version of Lennon and McCartney's "That Means A Lot."  You can hear the Beatles' version on "Anthology 2" as well as numerous bootlegs and listening to their version it is easy to see why they gave it away.  To his credit, Proby's version is better than the Beatles' version which sounds blasphemous but it is true.  His bigger than life voice gives drama and substance to a flimsy song aided by an elaborate arrangement from George Martin, producer of the Beatles.  Martin also arranged the only other good song on the record, the soulful "Let The Water Run Down" which is also the only song that might be considered a rocker on the album.  Proby's passionate vocal at least gives some evidence of why he was considered an exciting performer in his day.  Most of the record consists of covers and standards.  He slows down Jackie Wilson's "Lonely Teardrops" for some reason yet delivers a very emotional and raw vocal that almost makes it worthwhile.  He offers a decent cover of Charlie Rich's "Lonely Weekends" although I find the big band arrangement annoying.  There is also a lame cover of Jay and the Americans' "She Cried" in which his vocal is even more overwrought than the original.  He speeds up "Mission Bell" and makes it work but the other standards are mostly boring. "The Nearness of You," "I Will," "If I Loved You," "With These Hands" and "Secret Love" feature corny arrangements and hammy vocals that make them a waste of time unless you are a fan of the likes of Eddie Fisher or Frankie Laine.  There is no denying that Proby has a great voice, but he has such bad taste that he might as well sound like Tiny Tim.  Recommended for people who prefer fat Vegas Elvis to young rocker Elvis. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A World Of Our Own - The Seekers

A World Of Our Own
The Seekers
Columbia 1722/Capitol T2369

I'm not embarrassed that I'm a fan of the Seekers, but I am a little embarrassed that I'm a big enough Seekers fan that I have both the English and American versions of this album.  It was their second album for Capitol Records and I believe their 4th album overall.  I bought the Capitol issue first and then I came across the English version many years later.  I didn't remember the track listing for the Capitol album and I knew that there were often significant differences between the Capitol and EMI issues of albums so I bought the import but in fact the only difference is that the American album has one less track and the English album has much better liner notes.  There might be a little difference in the mix, the American pressing sounds a little clearer to me, but I haven't the patience to compare the two that closely.  I probably ought to get rid of the Capitol album, but I like the cover picture so I keep it for now.  I became a Seekers fan as a child when I fell for "Georgy Girl."  It was one of my favorite songs for many years, I even would watch some of the movie just to hear it although I didn't succeed in sitting all the way through it until I was an adult.  This is genteel folk-pop similar to Peter, Paul and Mary.  The record was produced by Tom Springfield who had been in the similar sounding Springfields with his sister Dusty Springfield.  He also wrote the title song which was a hit single and is the best song on the album.  It is extremely catchy and the group's vocal harmonies are sublime.  The rest of the album consists mostly of a bunch of well-known folk standards including two Dylan songs, "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" and "The Times They Are A'Changin'."  They also do Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land" and Ian Tyson's "Four Strong Winds."  Those are all great songs but the Seekers bring nothing new to them.  They do a pair of traditional songs as well, "The Leaving of Liverpool" and "Just A Closer Walk With Thee."  The former is my second favorite song on the record and boasts one of Judith Durham's best vocals.  The latter has been done a million times and I'm partial to the Patsy Cline version myself.  I love Durham's voice but this version seems lackluster to me.  "Allentown Jail" benefits from a more passionate vocal from Durham and she single-handedly rescues Bob Gibson's "You Can Tell The World" from folkie tedium.  She takes the mike after the first verse and brings the song to life.  Group guitarist and banjo player, Bruce Woodley, wrote a pair of songs for the record.  I like "Two Summers" which is a lovely and moving song.  It is one of the best on the record.  I enjoy his "Don't Tell Me My Mind" as well but its familiar babe-I-got-to-ramble lyrics bore me.  The biggest dud on this record is the old-timey instrumental "Whistling Rufus" which Capitol left off the American version of this album.  The only good thing about it is that it is short.  Ultimately how you feel about this album will probably depend on how you feel about Judith Durham.  I like her big voice and enthusiasm.  Even though I think some of the music is pedestrian, her singing makes it special.  Recommended for We Five fans who don't like electric guitars.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Let's Live For Today - The Grassroots

Let's Live For Today
The Grassroots
Dunhill DS 50020

I saw Rob Grill's obituary a couple of weeks ago (he's the guy in the striped shirt in the upper left hand corner in the picture above.)  He sang the lead vocals on most of the Grassroots' hit singles.  He died from a head injury he sustained in a fall.  I wasn't a fan, but I still mourn his passing, I have a sentimental attachment to a couple of his group's songs.  This was the group's second album although the group that recorded their debut album was a different group entirely.  The original band had a conflict with producer/songwriters Steve Barri and P. F. Sloan and quit.  Barri and Sloan recruited Grill, Warren Entner, Creed Bratton and Rick Coonce to be the new Grassroots and record this album.  It is an engaging album, mostly in a commercial folk-rock vein.  If you have "Golden Grass" you probably don't need it unless you are a big fan, four of the best songs on here are on that comp as well, namely "Things I Should Have Said." "Wake Up, Wake Up," "Let's Live For Today" and "Where Were You When I Needed You."  Aside from "Wake Up, Wake Up" they were all big hits and are my three favorite Grassroots songs.  I also like "Out of Touch" which has a nice surging chorus and a solid riff as well as "Tip Of My Tongue" which has a bit of a chamber pop feel in places.  The Barri/Sloan tunes are formulaic, but at least it is a nice formula.  They are all catchy with nice arrangements although the lyrics are pretty trite.   Most of the album is composed by Barri and Sloan, but the group contribute four numbers none of which depart much from the Barri/Sloan formula.  They are largely pleasant but undistingished, although I do like Entner and Bratton's "Beatin' Round The Bush" and Bratton's "House of Stone" both of which are sung by Entner.  The former is atmospheric folk-rock while the latter is more of a rocker with some nice stinging fuzz guitar, it is the only time I've ever heard these guys sound like a garage band.  I don't play this album often, but I enjoy it when I do.  It sounds nice on a sunny afternoon.  Recommended to fans of the Mamas and the Papas and the first two Turtles albums. 

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Blow-Up - Original Soundtrack

Original Soundtrack
MGM SE-4447

I've been reading about this new music service, Spotify, which gives subscribers access to a giant library of music, allegedly making CDs and records obsolete (unless you are a Beatles fan - they aren't on it yet.)  I doubt that I will ever be a subscriber, I have enough music in my own collection to last the rest of my life and besides I'm too into records to ever accept any substitute.  But if I were my son's age, I'd probably think it was a great idea, you could hear anything you want and it takes up no space, what's not to like?  Maybe music shouldn't be something you collect, it should just be something you experience when you feel like it.  I've always enjoyed the hunt, the effort it took to learn about music and to acquire it.  To me that is part of the music experience, leafing through the bins, examining album artwork and liner notes, reading record reviews, listening to favorite radio stations.  It seems dull to just type in a name and get the music, or worse to let someone curate my listening experience with their own playlists.  My record collection is the product of my tastes and interests and it required effort from me to acquire it and represents an abundance of experiences.  The nice thing about records as opposed to MP3s is that they have histories.  When I look at this record it brings back all kinds of memories.  I bought it in 1979.  I had a summer job in San Francisco and it was my first chance to spend a lot of time in the City since infancy.  Often I would skip lunch and explore downtown.  Back then before the invasion of chain stores, there were lots of odd shops downtown - book stores, boutiques and even a few used record stores.  Once when I was in the Theater District of the City around Geary Street I happened upon a basement record shop.  As I leafed through the bins I realized all the records were soundtracks or original cast albums and all the patrons were middle-aged men.  Not my scene at all.  Before I beat it on out of there, I stumbled across this album, still sealed and not too expensive.  I jumped on it.  You might think I just wanted it for the Yardbirds' song, "Stroll On" and you'd be partially right.  Actually though, my main interest in it was that I was a giant Michelangelo Antonioni fan.  It was admittedly a weird passion for a teenager.  I came across a book about him when I was 16 and I was fascinated by the descriptions of his films.  I saw "L'Avventura" on TV and "Zabriskie Point" with "Blow-Up" at my local revival theater and I was blown away.  As a pretentious teen I ate up his depictions of ennui and alienation.  He was my favorite filmmaker until I discovered Jean-Luc Godard in college.  Whenever I glance at the record all those memories come back to me.  You just can't get that with a download.  I'm not particularly interested in soundtrack records, but this is essentially a Herbie Hancock record with a bonus Yardbirds track.  Hancock's music doesn't sound much like his jazz records and even less like the music he was doing with Miles Davis, much of it really isn't jazz at all, more like rhythm and blues.  You can dance to the funky "Bring Down the Birds," "Main Title" and "The Thief" which are basically organ-driven rock with brief jazz interludes.  "Verushka (Part One)" is a blues that reminds me of Booker T and the MGs.  "Verushka (Part Two)" is also a blues but it is more conventionally jazzy in its sound.  "Jane's Theme" and "The Kiss" sound like cocktail lounge jazz not that there is anything wrong with that.  "The Bed" reminds me of Vince Guaraldi, I can almost imagine it in a "Peanuts" cartoon.  "The Naked Camera" sounds most like progressive jazz and it is my favorite of the Hancock compositions.  There are some compelling solos building off a hypnotic bass riff.  I like "Curiosity" and "Thomas Studies Photos" as well although they are quite brief.  For me though the best musical track on here is the Yardbirds' "Stroll On."  It is essentially "The Train Kept-A-Rollin'" (which the group had recorded before) with new lyrics.  I regard "Stroll On" as the greatest hard rock song the Yardbirds ever did, maybe even the best hard rock song of all time.  With Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck trading licks there is a ton of guitar firepower unleashed over a relentless driving beat.  It is fairly easy to get nowadays, but back when I bought this record, this album was the only way to get it (aside from bootlegs) and it was more than worth the trouble.  I've played this record quite a bit over the years but I have to admit from a musical standpoint it is really minor, little more than a footnote in Hancock's distinguished career.  Recommended for Jimmy Smith fans and Yardbirds completists.   

Friday, July 22, 2011

On Your Feet Or On Your Knees - Blue Oyster Cult

On Your Feet Or On Your Knees
Blue Oyster Cult
Columbia PG 33371

When I was in the 8th grade in Alameda, my friend and I came across a curious bit of graffiti at school.  It was a cross made out of an upside down question mark and underneath it was written "Blue Oyster Cult."  This was before BOC's ascension into AOR stardom with the release of "Agents of Fortune," I'd never heard of them.  My friend and I looked at each other in bewilderment and even a little bit of alarm.  We thought it was a real cult.  What kind of lunatics worship oysters?  It was not as far-fetched as you might think, the Bay Area was a hot bed of cult activity in the 1970s, I regularly passed Hare Krishnas on my way home from school.  So the Oysters became a running joke for us for the rest of the school year.  A year or so later I bought the Woffinden/Logan "Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock" and started reading it cover to cover and in the Bs I came across a picture of this album and learned all about the Blue Oyster Cult.  I was never much of a fan, but I bought this in the used bin out of curiousity.  As a rule, double live albums suck, they are one of the 1970s worst contributions to rock culture.  This is better than most, there isn't too much arena grandstanding and wanking off.  Side one kicks off with a pair of songs from "Secret Treaties": "The Subhuman" and "Harvester of Eyes."  To me "The Subhuman" sounds like the Allman Brothers playing prog rock.  The lyrics are about as weird as any you will ever hear in mainstream pop music and I'm not even going to try to interpret them.  I enjoy "Harvester of Eyes" which is surprisingly light and rollicking considering its dark subject matter.  The side ends with "Hot Rails To Hell" from "Tyranny and Mutation" which is full throttle, kick-ass rock and roll.  The same album yields a smoking version of "The Red & The Black", BOC's ode to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and "Seven Screaming Dizbusters" to kick off side two.  "The Red & The Black" is one of the best songs on the album with some dazzling guitar work.  "Dizbusters" has some nice riffing but its instrumental break bores me with its heavy metal cliches and self-indulgent soloing, although it is pretty funny when Eric Bloom says he knows Lucifer so well that he calls him by his first name, "Hey Lou."  Satanic references are practically de rigueur in heavy metal, but at least these guys have fun with it.  Side two concludes with Buck Dharma's guitar showcase "Buck's Boogie."   It is twice as long as Jeff Beck's boogie and about half as exciting.  Air guitarists should get a kick out of it, but I find it only sporadically compelling although it is fun to listen for the various references to other songs scattered throughout Dharma's playing.  Side three revisits BOC's debut album with "Last Days of May" and "Cities on Flame."  The former, a cautionary tale of a drug deal gone bad is mildly interesting and not at all metallic, it reminds me of Bad Company.  "Cities on Flame" on the other hand is pure metal with its monster heavy riffing.  The side finishes with "ME 262" from "Secret Treaties" which is told from the point of view of a Nazi pilot flying a jet against the British.  For a heavy metal band these guys do find interesting things to write about.   The guitar break in the middle of the song is lifted from the Yardbirds" "Lost Women."  It goes on a bit too long but the song really rocks.  The Yardbirds pop up again on side four with a raucous workout on their version of "I Ain't Got You."   Again it goes on too long but it has some powerful moments.  Side four also features a hard driving performance of the riff-happy "Before The Kiss, A Redcap" from their debut album.  The album finishes with a thunderous cover of Steppenwolf's "Born To Be Wild" that follows the original pretty closely at first and then jumps into some noisy metal cacophony.  It is a thrilling performance and ends the album with a bang.  Sounds like it was a really exciting show.  In the canon of hard rock live double albums I'd rank this a bit below "Kiss Alive" but well above Aerosmith's "Live Bootleg" or Led Zeppelin's "The Song Remains the Same."  At least there are no drum solos.  As an introduction to Blue Oyster Cult you could do worse.  I'd say it is worth buying just for side four alone.   Recommended for Led Zeppelin fans who wish their heroes had a better sense of humor. 

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Head - The Monkees

The Monkees
Colgems COSO-5008

My photo of the cover doesn't do it justice.  It is a clear silver cover and when you look into it you see a reflection of your head.  Very cool but a bitch to photograph.  I saw the Monkees recently in concert.  Even though I had been a huge fan of them as a child, I had real misgivings about the show, I only went because my son wanted to go.  My doubts about the show stemmed from the absence of Mike Nesmith (my favorite Monkee) and my fear that the show would be some depressing and empty exercise in crude nostalgia with Davy, Micky and Peter just going through the motions for the money.  At first my fears seemed justified as Micky and Davy clowned their way through a couple of numbers.  But then the excellent 7 member backing band took charge and the music picked up.  Finally Peter Tork made a heartfelt speech about how the Monkees were a real band and belonged in the Hall of Fame and I was won over.  All these years later and Tork is still looking for acceptance.  I was touched.  Tork is now the heart and soul of the band.  He sang all of Nesmith's parts and is clearly the best singer in the band at this point.  I was enjoying the show when Tork again took the mike to announce that they were going to do some songs from "Head."  I was ecstatic as they performed the entire album including an astonishing version of "Porpoise Song."  It was a terrific concert and I'm really glad I went.  "Head" is my favorite Monkees album.  I first encountered it via the movie of the same name.  Some of you may remember that distant time before cable when the three networks showed theatrical movies.  CBS ran movies nearly every night after the late night local news.  One night when I was in my early teens, they showed "Head."  I stayed up way past my normal bedtime to watch it.  I didn't get it,  I was expecting something like the TV series.  I even dozed off a few times.  Years later I was lucky enough to see it in a movie theater and it blew me away.  It remains my second favorite rock film after "A Hard Day's Night."  It is not only a great film, but a great record as well.  It was their final album prior to Tork's departure from the group and Tork goes out with a bang offering up two of his best songs with the band, "Can You Dig It?" and "Long Title: Do I Have To Do This All Over Again."  Dolenz replaced Tork as lead vocalist on "Can You Dig It?" although Rhino included the Tork version on its CD re-issue of "Head."   Having heard both versions I have to concede that the Dolenz one is better although Tork sang it at the concert and it sounded great.  The song has a Middle Eastern flavor to it that befits its use as trippy accompaniment to a belly dancing sequence in the film.  "Porpoise Song" is my favorite Monkees song and is arguably the most psychedelic song they ever did with the possible exception of "Daily Nightly."  It was written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King and features lyrics of entrapment and escape reflecting one of the key themes of the film.  The song is sung by Dolenz with help from Jones and it is driven by majestic organ lines colored by heavy orchestration, very much in the style of English psychedelia.  A great, great song.  Escape is also the theme in Carole King's other contribution to the record, the idyllic "As We Go Along" which is also sung by Dolenz.  It is a very inviting and relaxing song.  In total contrast is Mike Nesmith's contribution to the album, the exciting "Circle Sky."  I think it is the best rocker the band ever recorded and is one of Nesmith's best songs.  That leaves Jones' number, Harry Nilsson's "Daddy's Song," which is a sort of Broadway show tune/old timey song.  Normally I hate that sort of thing, but the swelling brass on the chorus wins me over, it reminds me of Dylan's "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35" although not so raucous.  The rest of the album is fleshed out with a short bit of Ken Thorne's soundtrack music and sound bites from the movie assembled by Jack Nicholson (yes that Jack Nicholson) including Frank Zappa's immortal line, "that song was pretty white."  I love the sound bites, they add a lot of resonance and humor to the album.  I think the Monkees are one of the most inspiring stories in rock and I have only the highest respect for them.  An artificial band, formed for the crassest commercial purposes, they broke free of their handlers' constraints out of sheer artistic will and dignity and went on to produce some of the best pop music of the 1960s.  Yes Peter, the Monkees do belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (along with Paul Revere and the Raiders, Donovan, Love, Moby Grape, Kiss and the Smiths, but I digress.)  By any objective criteria, artistic, cultural or historical significance, the Monkees are more worthy than many of the inductees already there.  I defy anyone on the selection committee to explain how the Dave Clark Five, the Flamingos, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, James Taylor, the Ventures, the Ronettes, John Mellencamp, Duane Eddy, Abba or Genesis are more deserving.  None of them ever made an album as good as "Head."  Recommended for people who think the Electric Prunes are a more significant group than Little Anthony and the Imperials (also in the Hall of Fame for reasons I can't begin to fathom.)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Gloria - The Shadows of Knight

The Shadows of Knight
Dunwich 666

The Shadows of Knight were a Chicago group that specialized in covers of Chicago-style blues and rhythm and blues.  That makes sense right?  Unlike their fellow Chicagoans, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, who derived their style from the likes of Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf and Little Walter, the Shadows of Knight derived their style by imitating the Yardbirds, the Animals and the Rolling Stones, that is British groups imitating Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf and Little Walter.  I understand that, I listen to my Yardbirds records more than my Muddy Waters records, but it still seems a little ridiculous to me.  The Shadows of Knight are much revered in garage band circles but I think they are too derivative to be ranked in the top tier of garage bands with groups like the Standells and the Chocolate Watch Band.  They also don't compare well with the British Invasion bands they were imitating.  They lacked a high quality guitarist and lead vocalist Jim Sohns was competent but could hardly compare with the likes of Eric Burdon, Van Morrison or Mick Jagger.  All they really had going for them was good taste in material and their raw energy and enthusiasm.  Consider their version of "Gloria" which was their biggest hit.  It is hopelessly inferior to Them's ferocious original.  Sohns sounds like a kid next to Van Morrison and the band lacks the drive and frenetic energy of Them's manic performance (abetted by studio pros like Jimmy Page.)  I could go through most of the covers on this record and pick superior versions by other bands from that era but I'll spare you that tedium.  As for the three originals on the album, "Light Bulb Blues" is basically Muddy Waters' "Rollin' and Tumblin'" with crummy new lyrics.  "Dark Side" is considerably better with a pleasing folk-rock element to it and "It Always Happens That Way" has a nice fuzz guitar riff and sounds a bit like Paul Revere and the Raiders.  They are both very promising songs although the lyrics are pretty dreadful even by garage band standards.  My favorite song on the record is the cover of Bo Diddley's "Oh Yea" (listed as "Oh Yeah" on this performance) which also appeared on the "Nuggets" compilation album.  It is lots of fun and has a powerful Yardbirds-style arrangement.  The Yardbirds also come to mind on my other favorite song on this album, the cover of Willie Dixon's "I Just Want To Make Love To You."  The song begins in the conventional manner but then breaks into a great surging rave-up.  It builds and builds and then just when it needs a great stinging guitar solo to cap it off, it delivers an utterly anti-climatic and pedestrian one, so disappointing.  It still rocks though, as does their driving version of Chuck Berry's "Let It Rock" which is one of the most exciting performances on the album.  Despite all its flaws this is a really worthwhile record, I just wish it were better.  Recommended for fans of the Downliners Sect and the Wailers.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Led Zeppelin IV - Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin IV
Led Zeppelin
Atlantic SD 19129

I've opted for the conventional moniker of "Led Zeppelin IV" for this album, which as you probably know has no official title aside from 4 symbols representing the band members.  I rarely play it, but last month I attended a pops concert by the high school orchestra that my kid plays in.  One of the songs they tackled was "Stairway to Heaven" which I found amazing since that would never have happened when I was in high school.  In my high school Led Zeppelin was actually considered kind of dangerous.  It was common knowledge that Jimmy Page was a Satanist and the band's bad behavior on the road was well-documented.  This sounds ludicrous nowadays, but my school was in a conservative suburb and fundamentalist Christians outnumbered the stoners by a ratio of at least two to one.  The first time I heard this album in its entirety was at a high school party.  That also seems kind of ludicrous since this is a terrible party record.  It is loud and gloomy and you can't dance to it.  It is mostly suitable for standing around drinking beer and acting like you are older than you really are, so I guess it wasn't a bad choice for the kind of stupid parties I used to go to.  The kid who played it was a total dork, but he gained credibility in my mind for spinning it at his party which just goes to show how naive I was.  I didn't even realize that the record was already more than five years old at the time, it sounded cutting edge to me.  Given that none of us was really aware of punk/New Wave yet, maybe it still was edgy.  It is not like Blue Oyster Cult or Aerosmith were any better.  I've never been a fan of the group although I have most of their albums.  I always resented that they were so much more successful than the Yardbirds from which they emerged and I hated the rock star bombast associated with them.  When I want to hear some heavy hard rock I'm more likely to reach for Nirvana or Sleater Kinney.  I have to admit though that this album is impressive and deserves its classic status.  My favorite track is "The Battle of Evermore" in which Robert Plant duets with the immortal Sandy Denny.  It is a folk-flavored tune with Tolkienesque lyrics, it sounds like a cross between Fairport Convention and the Incredible String Band.  English folk rock is also the basis for the most famous song on the record, "Stairway to Heaven."  I loved this song back in the 1970s.  I played it over and over when I bought this album.  Unfortunately it has been the object of so much parody that it is hard to take it seriously and I've heard it so many times that I don't really hear it anymore when I listen to it.  I still think it is a brilliant song though, a true folk rock synthesis with some dazzling guitar work.  Folk-rock is also prevalent in "Going To California" which has some of my favorite Led Zeppelin lyrics.  My other favorite track on the album is Memphis Minnie's "When The Levee Breaks" which I think is the band's best blues song and perhaps the most underrated song in the Led Zeppelin canon.  It boasts a great Plant vocal and thunderously powerful music - I love Page's wailing guitar.  Of course the band did not abandon their heavy metal roots completely.  "Black Dog" and "Rock and Roll" are lumpen-rockers driven by John Bonham's ham-fisted drumming and killer riffs that will appeal to any fan of "Led Zeppelin II."  They are played incessantly on classic rock radio and I'm truly sick of them.  When it comes to rockers on this record I prefer "Four Sticks."  I don't know why that song is not more popular, it sure beats "Misty Mountain Hop" which I find tedious.  I even dig Bonzo's drumming on it.  To me this record seems as much a hippie relic as "Sgt. Pepper" but people still seem to love it.  I don't, but it doesn't give me any pain unlike say the Eagles or the Doobie Brothers.  Recommended to Fairport Convention fans who prefer "Tam Lin" to "Who Knows Where The Time Goes."

Friday, July 15, 2011

Who Killed Amanda Palmer - Amanda Palmer

Who Killed Amanda Palmer
Amanda Palmer
Roadrunner 834672

I currently have this album in three formats.  I initially bought the CD.  Then I found out there was a dvd of it and I bought that and finally I picked up the vinyl.  I think the ideal format of it is actually the dvd.  Amanda Palmer is such a compelling and charismatic performer that the rock video is the best vehicle for her music (aside from seeing her live.)  I was lukewarm about her previous group, the Dresden Dolls until I saw the video for "Coin Operated Boy" which made me an instant fan.  When I feel like hearing the Dolls I'm more likely to reach for one of their performance dvds than a CD.  Even without the visual element though, this is still a terrific record.  This was her debut record as a solo artist and it is consistent with the style and themes of her music with the Dresden Dolls, the big difference is the instrumentation which is a lot more elaborate with guitars, horns and strings adding color to the music.  The music is still driven by Palmer's piano, but it is more powerful than any of the Dolls' records.  Probably some of that can be credited to producer Ben Folds who knows something about making exciting music centered around a piano.  This is a dark record, the most upbeat and funny song, "Oasis," features date rape and an abortion, so you can imagine what the rest of the record is like.  There is no answer to the title question on the record, but if I were to hazard a guess, I'd say the killer was probably one of her exes, most likely the guy in "Ampersand" which is my favorite song on the album.  It is an amazing song, very powerful musically with a passionate vocal from Palmer as she makes a feminist statement of freedom and eviscerates her crazy lover.  That line about "eyes full of ketchup" is just brilliant.  "Another Year: A Short History of Almost Something" is another tremendous song.  I believe it is about fear of commitment, but it might as well be about suicide it is so gloomy.  When I listen to it I feel like I'm at a funeral.  Palmer sings her heart out, her vocal gives me chills.  "Astronaut: A Short History of Nearly Nothing" gets the album off to a rousing start with its crashing piano chords and I love Zoe Keating sawing away on the cello throughout the song.  I may be in the minority here, but I think a cello makes just about any pop song better.  I believe the song is about a woman lamenting her astronaut lover's death although it also works as a song of neglected love.  It would make a nice response to Bowie's "Space Oddity" telling the story of Major Tom's wife. "Strength Through Music" is about a kid on a shooting rampage, I find her ticking very unnerving.  "Runs In the Family" is a cousin to the Dolls' "Girl Anachronism" as it explores hereditary illness both physical and mental, family shame and avoiding responsibility for one's actions.  In "Leeds United" it sounds like Palmer is ragging on an English boyfriend.  I like her husky, hoarse vocal and I'm pleasantly surprised by the effectiveness of the horns used to augment the song.  "Blake Says" dissects another commitment-phobe boyfriend using references to Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground.  This song features Keating on cello again as well as some nice synthesizer work from Ben Folds.  Folds' synthesizer is also very prominent in "Guitar Hero" which showcases some guitar shredding from East Bay Ray of the Dead Kennedys.  She criticizes video game addicts in this song.  The cover of "What's the Use of Wond'rin" from the musical "Carousel" is largely sung by guest vocalist Annie Clark of St. Vincent.  Palmer presumably included it as a statement of irony, since its stand-by-your-man message is contradicted by this entire record.  With its music box-like chimes and Clark's almost mechanical vocal, it sounds like something out of a David Lynch movie, it makes Rodgers and Hammerstein seem creepy.  I don't really get "Have to Drive" but I dig the strings and choir.  I think it is using roadkill to make some points about escapism, escapism is a recurring theme on this record.  It is evident in "The Point of It All" which is another one of my favorite songs on the record.  The subject of the song is so withdrawn and depressed as to shut his or herself off from the world.  I suppose the needle in the song could be a drug reference, but I prefer to think of it as a metaphor.  I find this album endlessly fascinating.  I don't think Palmer's music is confessional, but it is personal and intimate.  Listening to this record is like having dinner with her or at least her persona anyway.  She tells you things you don't normally hear on a pop record.  I've been listening to this record repeatedly over the past couple of weeks trying to write this post, on top of all the times I listened to the CD when I first got it so I would guess I've heard it at least fifty times and it still sends me.  I hear new stuff or pick up something new in the lyrics every time I play it.  It is musically and lyrically complex and emotionally honest and expressive.  Recommended for Tori Amos fans looking for something a little more edgy and ornery.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Woody's Roots - Woody Guthrie

Woody's Roots
Woody Guthrie
Rounder 11661-1164-1

A post for Woody Guthrie in honor of his 99th birthday.  I'm not a big folk fan, when it comes to Guthries I'm more likely to put on Arlo than Woody.  But among the old school folkies, Guthrie is my favorite.  Like a lot of people I first encountered Guthrie in music class in grade school via "This Land Is Your Land."  As a kid I thought the song must be over a hundred years old like "Oh Susanna" or "The Star-Spangled Banner" and most of the other songs we sang in class.  Little did I know that the author had just died a few years earlier.  In high school I got into Bob Dylan and from Dylan I learned about Guthrie.  Thanks Bob.  It took me awhile but I finally came to appreciate Guthrie's great contribution to American music.  I have an excellent CD comp of Guthrie's recordings, but frankly it is just too big.  I rarely have a hankering for that much Woody.  Besides I think he just sounds better on vinyl.  When I feel like some Guthrie, I usually reach for this record even though most of it isn't actually written by him.  It is part of a 4 record series entitled "My Dusty Road" put out by Rounder from the celebrated Asch recordings that were rediscovered a while back.  The Asch recordings were made in New York City in 1944 and 1945 and feature Guthrie alone as well as numerous recordings where he is accompanied by Cisco Houston which are the ones I find particularly appealing.  It was also issued in an elaborate box set on CD.  Each of the 4 records has a theme, this one is traditional music.  If you are into traditional folk music you've probably heard lots of these songs before, "John Henry," "Stackolee" and "Gypsy Davy" have been recorded many times but Guthrie's versions are about as good as any.  There are also some nice versions of old timey songs like "Put My Little Shoes Away" (with harmonica accompaniment by Sonny Terry), "Will You Miss Me When I'm Gone," "What Did The Deep Sea Say," the Carter Family's "Little Darling Pal of Mine" and "A Picture From Life's Other Side" which I know from Hank Williams' version.  A lot of these tunes have Guthrie copyrights even though I know he didn't write them, like "Buffalo Skinners" and "Stewball," an English variant of which appears on the Steeleye Span album "Ten Man Mop."  I believe that "Poor Boy" really is one of his compositions and it is first rate.   My favorite songs are "Hard Ain't It Hard" and another Carter Family song "Worried Man Blues" which are essential Guthrie recordings.  They feel like America to me.  This is a wonderful record, an artifact of authentic and historic music, a piece of our culture that perhaps no longer exists, yet remains a part of what we are.  Recommended for fans of the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

War - U2

Island 90067-1

I recently saw U2 play at Anaheim Stadium as part of their 360 tour.  It was a spectacular concert, I enjoyed it more than I expected.  I was a big U2 fan when I was younger but over the years I lost interest in them.  I went to this show because my son wanted to see it and I'm glad we went.  There was a moment in the concert where I was reminded of when I started to lose interest in the group.  It occurred when they performed "Sunday Bloody Sunday."  Here I was in the heart of conservative Orange County surrounded by beer swilling party people bellowing out the lyrics to the song including the doofus who had been yelling at Bono to stop talking and start singing earlier in the show.  The song is a heartfelt cry for peace that references the sectarian violence in Northern Ireland, yet the happy drunks around me might as well have been singing "Louie, Louie."  The irony of this reminded me of when I was in college.  I had the first three U2 albums and they were one of my favorite bands.  I deeply respected their willingness to express strong political and religious opinions in their songs, I thought of them as cutting edge artists.  I was walking along Fraternity Row in Berkeley when I came across a loutish bunch of frat boys sitting on their lawn and blasting from their stereo was "New Year's Day" my very favorite U2 song.  I was horrified and it was never the same after that.  U2 skyrocketed in popularity and my interest in them waned accordingly.  I'm embarrassed to admit that a lot of that was snobbery on my part, like many indie rock fans I don't like it when my pet bands become famous.  I've gotten better about that now, I like obscure bands and famous ones as well.  Also I've come to realize that perhaps U2's greatest virtue is being a massively popular band that still has something to say.  A bunch of idiots in Anaheim were lectured by Bono about Aung San Suu Kyi and the civil rights situation in Myanmar.  Even if only a few of them learned anything from what he said, it is still more than there were before the concert.  Bono has been given the gift of a platform and he has consistently used it for good.  Kudos to him and U2 for maintaining their integrity all these years.  My favorite U2 album is this one, "War."  I bought it in Berkeley and played it all the time for awhile.   It is a concept album about armed aggression.  It is very much a record of its pre-Glasnost era, when the world was unstable and full of conflict.  With a trigger-happy cowboy in the White House and gunboat diplomacy the order of the day, the feeling of Armageddon and doom that permeates this album was definitely shared by myself and a lot of my peers.  The lyrics on this album express confusion and disgust with the violence and injustice in the world and emphasize the power of uniting against oppression as well as the redemptive power of love.  You can call Bono a silly romantic, but I prefer his idealism to the cynicism that is so prevalent in so much modern music.  There isn't as much religion on this record as there is on the first two U2 albums, aside from "40," but it still has an evangelical flavor to it, particularly on "Drowning Man" and "Like A Song."  I don't think that is a bad thing.  One of the things I like best about Bono is that he is such a passionate believer in things.  Musically this is an incredibly powerful record, it is far more muscular than most "New Wave" albums with their fake drums, jangly guitars and synthesizers.  U2 championed traditional rock and roll values: loud guitars, heavy bass lines, big drums and powerful vocals.  Unlike punk rock though, U2 played with grace and skill, this record is full of beautiful instrumental passages - despite the harshness of the lyrics, it is a pleasure to listen to.  There is a wide variety of music offered - passionate anthems like "New Year's Day," "Like A Song" and "Two Hearts Beat As One" which soar and lift the spirit.  "The Refugee," "Surrender" and "Seconds" have a funkiness to them that reminds me of the Clash.  "Red Light" is soulful, it even has a trumpet solo.  I can imagine someone like Otis Redding singing it.  It displays Bono's chops as a vocalist as does the powerful ballad "Drowning Man."  "40" is a mournful tune with a touch of gospel.  The militaristic sounding "Sunday Bloody Sunday" is in a class by itself.  It is such a powerful song, I think it is one of the great protest songs of its era.  Listening to this record 28 years after its original release I'm impressed by how vibrant and exciting it still sounds.  Let the bells ring out - long live U2, a band that still matters.  Recommended for people who still believe that music can make a difference.

Monday, July 11, 2011

California Lite - Key Losers

California Lite
Key Losers
P. W. Elverum & Sun Ltd.  ELV023

This record came out on Phil Elverum's indie label and was recorded by him although the actual production is attributed to the band.  Key Losers is Katy Davidson's new project/group.  She was formerly in Dear Nora, actually she was Dear Nora.  Dear Nora started as an actual group but after their first album, "We'll Have a Time," their music was basically Davidson with occasional guest musicians.  I liked those albums because Davidson is a good songwriter and those albums have a nice intimate vibe to them.  On the other hand I like a rhythm section too so I welcome Davidson's return to a group setting.  I saw her new group open for Mount Eerie a few weeks ago and I enjoyed her set.  They performed as a trio with Nicholas Krgovich on keyboards and Tom Filardo on guitar.  Both played on the album as did several other musicians not at the show.  I bought this record from her at the concert and she threw in a free download of the Key Loser's first mini-album "Adjust" which alas only exists as a tape or a MP3, my least favorite musical formats.  "Adjust" does show the Key Losers to be a departure from Dear Nora.  It has a Middle Eastern flavor on "Ancient Plain" and the psychedelic "Thought I Was" which I think is one of the best songs Davidson has ever done.  There were some percussion-driven songs that I would never even have guessed were Davidson's if I heard them on the radio.  "California Lite" does not sound much like "Adjust" although it doesn't sound much like Dear Nora either.  The record is a concept album about Southern California.  I believe it was inspired by her experiences living in Long Beach which I think is depicted on the back cover.  Southern California has been a muse for countless rock artists over the years ranging from the paeans of the Beach Boys and the Briggs to the ridicule of Frank Zappa and Randy Newman.  I don't think I've ever heard anything quite like this before though.  Davidson's California is not Brian Wilson's California of surf, hot rods and girls nor the Eagles' California of decadence, sluts and cokeheads.  Her vision is more realistic, a dissection of ordinary SoCal life, the kind of thing an outsider might notice but which an Angelino would consider mundane.  The song "Metal Masks" describes a trip on the 405 freeway through the westside of Los Angeles while listening to Animal Collective, something I've done but it would never occur to me to write a song about it.  The chipper tune almost makes driving on the freeway sound like fun.  "Smoggy Mountain High" describes the allure of the local mountains which seem so tantalizingly close but which are so far away when you consider the effort and traffic one must overcome to get to them.  "Horizon Line" and "Real Time Here" evoke the local elements, the wind and the ubiquitous sunshine that are the primary features of SoCal weather even in the winter.  "Real Time Here" was previously recorded by Davidson in 2007 on the Lloyd & Michael CD "Just As God Made Us," but I like the new version better. "Permanent" suggests to me a trip to the desert where one's sense of isolation and alienation are heightened.  I think alienation is one of the key themes in this record which is expressed in songs like "Cheap Display" and "We Are A Program" which describe people isolated from each other and their environment.  Davidson sets William Stafford's poem "Bi-Focal" to music in a song of the same name.  It is not a poem about Los Angeles, but its discussion of the difference between reality and perception, is certainly applicable to the city with its obsession with appearances.  This also is expressed in the music.  "Limited Time" seems like a laid-back ballad befitting the album title but then injects bursts of dissonance into the chorus suggesting the tension underneath the bucolic SoCal lifestyle.  I hear this also in the sharp bursts of jazz saxophone that punctuate the cheerful music of "Metal Masks" as well as in the musical effects that pop up sporadically through out the mellow "Bi-Focal" which remind me of car horns (in terms of effect not sound.)  In "Permanent" the dissonance comes from distorted electric guitars, bubbling underneath the surface of an otherwise lovely tune.  I find this dynamic tension within the music to be very stimulating.  Because of the size of the band on this record, this music is more muscular than Dear Nora, especially on the bottom with the dominant bass and the direct, almost tribal drumming.  I like the groovy 70s funkiness of the music on "Smoggy Mountain High" which is one of my favorite songs on the record.  This song like several on the record features multi-layered vocals which creates a richer sound as well.  "Real Time Here" also has a 70s flavor to it, kind of like an alternative rock synthesis of Jefferson Starship and Fleetwood Mac.  The upbeat music masks the confused feelings of the protagonist struggling to find what is real.  "We Are a Program" is the most interesting song on the record.  It is a drony, dissonant dirge reminiscent of Nico and shows how much Davidson's music benefits from a full band.  "Weight of the World" which closes the album is the only song I don't like very much although it is consistent with the musical style of the record - mellow funky music mixed with incomprehensible distorted vocals and chunks of musical dissonance.   It is an interesting song, but I hate the vocals which remind me of a cat in heat.  Overall I find that listening to this record gives me pleasure, yet I would not describe it as a happy record, it is actually a rather depressing vision of urban life.  I can relate to Davidson's view of Southern California and there have been times when I've felt the things she describes.  However the nice thing about Southern California is that it is so large and diverse that it can offer almost any experience you want if you look for it.  This is an excellent record that rewards repeated listening.  Hooking up with Phil Elverum as a production partner was a great choice, he's a guy who knows how to get a big sound out of very little without overwhelming the songs.  I think it is an exciting development in Davidson's career and I'm optimistic about her future recordings.  Recommended for post-folk Joni Mitchell fans.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Messages From The Status Quo - Status Quo

Messages From the Status Quo
Status Quo
Cadet Concept LPS 315

Someone in the Target marketing department has pretty good taste in 1960s rock.  A few years back they used Max Frost and The Troopers' "Shape of Things to Come" in a commercial and then just the other day I heard "Pictures of Matchstick Men" in one of their ads.  That got me to pull this record out.  I first heard that song in a commercial for one of those compilation albums that they used to sell on television back in the old days.  I only heard a little bit of it and knew I had to have it.  I eventually bought it on a British Rock comp and thought it was great.  That was all the Status Quo I thought I needed.  Years later I was in a record store in Los Angeles, unquestionably the dirtiest and messiest record store I've ever seen.  It was truly vile, I half expected a rat to scrurry past the disintegrating record bins.  There were lots of good records but most were scratched or damaged in some way which was very frustrating.  I was about to give up when I came across this.  I pulled out the vinyl expecting the worst, but instead it was nearly pristine.  So I happily rescued it from that dross pit and gave it a spin.  What a pleasant surprise.  This is typical of the English school of psychedelia - high pitched, almost whiny vocals, phasing, swirling organ lines and colorful nonsensical lyrics.  Most of the songs are similar in style to "Pictures of Matchstick Men" although none are as good.  "Black Veils Of Melancholy" is a shameless attempt to replicate it right down to the stinging guitar riff.  Like "Pictures of Matchstick Men" it was written by the band's guitarist/vocalist, Francis Rossi, but actually the best follow up to "Pictures of Matchstick Men" came from the British songwriting team of Marty Wilde and Ronnie Scott.  Their "Ice In the Sun" was a hit in England and should have been here as well.  It is not a psychedelic song lyrically and could be considered bubblegum, but the Quo give it the full "Matchstick" treatment imparting a psychedelic style to it.  The most overtly psychedelic song on the album comes from bassist Alan Lancaster, "Sunny Cellophane Sky" which I think is a minor classic, at least as good as most of the songs you will hear on a typical English psych comp.  I also really like the Wilde/Scott song "Elizabeth Dreams," Rossi and Rick Parfitt's "When My Mind Is Not Live" and "Technicolor Dreams" which are full of psychedelic charms.  Ultimately this record is too formulaic to be ranked in the top tier of English psychedelia with the likes of Tomorrow, Tintern Abbey, early Pink Floyd or the Factory, but it is certainly more than respectable and sure beats the boogie stuff Status Quo churned out in 1970s.  I'm really fond of this album and if you like English psych half as much as I do, I think you will dig this record too.  Recommended for people who think "Rain" is a better song than "Eleanor Rigby."

Friday, July 8, 2011

Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia - The Dandy Warhols

Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia
The Dandy Warhols
Capitol/Schizophonic 787LP

I first encountered the Dandys in a bad review of their album "Dandys Rule, OK?" that dismissed the band as pretentious poseurs.  I came across that CD in the used bin at the record store and amused by the name of the album, I decided to check it out.  I really liked it and I loved their following album "The Dandy Warhols Come Down" which was their major label debut.  I was now a fan and I snapped this up on CD as soon as it came out in the summer of 2000 and played it nearly everyday for months.  Then it all fell apart.  The Dandys embraced dance music, I saw Courtney Taylor-Taylor's awful short film, and then I saw the movie "Dig!" and I suddenly knew a lot more about the Dandys than I really wanted to know.  I lost interest in the band, but I still loved this record and when it came out on vinyl I was happy to pick it up.  In some ways, this album works better as a CD.  The songs are mixed so that they flow into each other seamlessly, an effect that is lost when it is spread over 4 sides of vinyl.  The vinyl does sound awesome though, this is a beautifully produced record.   The record opens with "Godless" which is my favorite Dandy Warhols song.  It was stuck in my head the first time I heard it and it kept playing in my mental jukebox for much of 2000 and beyond.  Although it sounds beautiful and haunting, it is actually a bitter song in which Taylor-Taylor attacks a false friend.  It has become my personal soundtrack for anyone I'm mad at.  From the opening drone and the evocative strum of an acoustic guitar it is a striking musical performance full of atmosphere with brilliant use of trumpet and an urgent breathy vocal from Taylor-Taylor that is unusually passionate for a guy who typically favors ironic distance in his singing.  Side one finishes with a pair of metaphysical songs, "Mohammed" and "Nietzsche," which depending on your perspective can either be viewed as Taylor-Taylor being a pretentious wanker or sincerely questing for meaning in a chaotic world.  I lean towards the former but I still enjoy both songs, which are musically and sonically rich.  In fact side one is probably the most impressive set of music that the Dandys have ever done.  "Mohammed" only consists of ten lines and "Nietzsche" only has three yet both songs go on for more than 5 minutes.  "Mohammed" has a Middle Eastern flavor as befits its title and I find its hypnotic drone very satisfying.  I believe that the lyrics are meant to represent the perspective of a believer.  I've heard Muslims express similar thoughts but there is little in the song that wouldn't work for a devout Christian as well.  "Nietzsche" on the other hand is just stupid although it is redeemed by its thunderous sound and a monstrous power riff reminiscent of the Blue Oyster Cult's "Godzilla."  You can enjoy either song without even understanding what Taylor-Taylor is singing about.  I had to listen multiple times before I figured out the words and I was sorry I bothered.  Side two marks the return of the smarmy, smirking Taylor-Taylor we all know and love.  "Country Leaver" is a slight country rock song complete with barnyard noises.  "Solid" and "Horse Pills" feature the familar poppy alt-rock sound of the earlier Dandys records.  Taylor-Taylor drawls his way through "Solid" which is about an asshole hipster, if you've seen "Dig" you know that Taylor-Taylor knows all about that kind of guy.  "Horse Pills" mocks wealthy pill-popping cougars.  I'm not sure why they bug him so much, but I doubt that he objects to them on moral grounds.  The hedonism continues on side three with "Get Off," an irresistibly catchy pop song.  At first I thought it was about sex addiction but now I'm pretty sure it is about dope.  "Sleep" is similar to the songs on side one, a four line song stretched out for five minutes.  It a dreamy song with lovely vocals, either as an ode to suicide or a description of heartbreak, it is a moving song, one of my favorites on the album.  It features very effective use of synthesizers as well.  "Cool Scene" is another propulsive pop song.  Taylor-Taylor is putting down hipster cliques I believe.  Side four begins with the Dandy's ultimate hipster put down, the classic "Bohemian Like You."  Insanely catchy it is arguably their most successful pop song and the lyrics are so funny and clever that I can forgive how snooty and sarcastic they are.  In "Shakin'" Taylor-Taylor is ragging on a girlfriend and sings in an affected voice that sounds like he's impersonating David Bowie or Bryan Ferry.  "Big Indian" is an unusually introspective song with a classic rock flavor that reminds me of Tom Petty.  It contains the great line "my old man told me one time, you never get wise, you only get older" which suggests that Taylor-Taylor is not as dumb as he seems sometimes.  I don't know quite what to make of the album closer "The Gospel."  Despite the pretentious title, the song seems like a sincere and heartfelt love song, but given all that has come before it, I can't help but wonder if it is a put-on, especially since it borrows from "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot."  It is a very pretty song regardless and I like that the album ends with some warmth and feeling.  "Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia" is an exasperating yet brilliant record.  The lyrics and posturing can be so annoying at times, but the music is consistently engaging and compelling.  I found it enthralling when it came out and that has not changed.  It still excites me when I play it and I've played it a whole lot of times.  On this album at least the Dandys do rule, OK?  Recommended to self-loathing hipsters.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Six Songs - The Finches

Six Songs
The Finches
Dulc-i-tone/Ulrike Records UR 002

I saw this group open for Lavender Diamond a while ago and was really impressed.  I say this group, yet this album was made by a largely different group.  The Finches were originally a duo of Carolyn Pennypacker Riggs (vocals and guitar) and Aaron Morgan (guitar and bass) who played what might be described as folk-pop.  In 2010 Riggs made an excellent CD as the Finches entitled "On Golden Hill" with a bassist and a drummer (neither of whom appear to be in the current line up of the band) which is more like folk-rock.  When I saw the group in concert they were a five piece playing a delightful set of jangle-pop.  This album is called "Six Songs" but there are actually seven since the LP contains a bonus track.  One sure way to win me over is to put extra tracks on your LPs instead of your CDs.  Another way to win me over is to have really nice packaging and this album is exceptional in that regard.  Riggs is an artist as well as a musician and her records all feature her impressive artwork.  This one features her artwork on the cover and inner labels as well as a bonus letterpress print suitable for framing.  These things are all great, but I would have liked this record anyway just because the songs are so good.  The album begins with "The Road" which describes Riggs' wanderlust.  I like the way she seeks her friends' approval in song prior to leaving.  "The House With Two Front Doors" is based on a melody by the Italian singer Adriano Celentano with amusing lyrics by Riggs celebrating solitary co-existence with one's neighbor.  The cheerful music makes an ironic backdrop for the nearly misanthropic lyrics.  Side one ends with my favorite song on the record, "Daniel's Song."  It is a memorable tune to cheer up her brother who has returned to their parents' home.  Side two starts with "O Goettingen!" which is about a romantic sojourn in the German town of the same name.  "A Stranger Song" borrows musically from Leonard Cohen's "The Stranger Song" and Riggs' lyrics are even more depressing than Cohen's.  She sweetly sings of estrangement and bitterness in what is the most powerful song on the album.  "The Last Song Of 2003" warns her lover to treat her right or watch her drop him.  The bonus song, "Come Sit Beside Me" is a haunting song with some lovely dobro accompaniment by David Morgan who is Aaron Morgan's father and who recorded this album.  It is another one of my favorites.  What I find fascinating about this record is the contrast between the alienation or coldness in so many of the lyrics and the sweet quality of the music.  Even as Riggs sings of untrustworthy friends or the impermanence of love, I find myself entranced by the music.  It is remarkably relaxing, even soothing.  Part of that is the simplicity of the music, the stately chiming of the guitars and the slow steadiness of the rhythms.  There is also something about Riggs' voice that I find disarming, it has a quality that is hard to describe, almost a cross between a precocious child and a kindergarten teacher, it is relaxed and girlish yet authoritative.  She has a warm presence about her and listening to her is very reassuring.  I really look forward to hearing more from her in the future.  Recommended for fans of Leonard Cohen and Vashti Bunyan.