When Elvis Costello and the Roots stage a CD collaboration, they are apparently –and typically of all great artists- fully aware of what the listener expects of them, and just that fully prepared to ignore all of it.
Wise Up Ghost does not kick off in any grandiose Costello-esque fashion, nor does it drop a beat on your ass with any expectantly Roots-ready attitude. Instead, it slowly, and much more threateningly strides up as if you needn’t even be there, and challenges you with a weirdness of substance that mirrors the weirdness of its very conception.
Various electronic clicks and buzzes flow into the trademarked squirting chirp of a Macbook’s volume control being turned up (NOTE: This may cause momentary confusion if you happen to be cueing it up for the first time on your own Apple product.), and by the time you find yourself 60 seconds into “Walk Us Uptown,” you are fully engaged in a project which both stares down at you to demand your acceptance, and would exist just as fruitfully without it.
Art for art’s sake drags you as relentlessly as ?ueslove’s instantly recognizable marching snare drum through all fifteen –yes, fifteen- tracks, drowning out every possible query you could have in life, with the possible exception of “How the f**k did these guys ever get together?!”
For his own part, the ridiculously intrepid and Stevie Wonderously versatile Declan Patrick “Post-Punk-God-turned-Bacharach-collaborator” MacManus spends most of his time proving that he can still do whatever he sets his mind to better than most of those who have ever done it. Despite being backed by Hip-Hop pioneers of the first order, he graciously avoids the temptation to approach anything resembling rapping. Instead, he stays close to his long-perfected prosaic vocal style, drifting into almost spoken word delivery only when it will stand out as cleverly unusual.
Historical comparisons to this collaboration are precious and few, but the carefully attuned pre-Hipster hip may hear similarities to the work of neo-Beat Poet Mike Doughty and 1990’s underground luminaries, Soul Coughing. Lyrically, at times, the great bespectacled one seems to be improvising, or at the very strictest, holding the microphone with one hand while flipping through a rhyming dictionary with the other. “So what?” you will say, and so you should. Bob Dylan made himself into a legend doing every bit as much extemporizing, and leaving the listener to decipher a meaning where there was one, and infer their own where there wasn’t. The point is, it works.
At 73 minutes in length, Wise Up Ghost never enters the realm of tedium. On the contrary, as deeply entrenched as the title track is, it still manages to alter the entire tone of the journey. Rather, when your internet-age-worn attention span wanders off of the path and onto other things, Elvis and cohorts merely step attentively, and at times menacingly, behind you, blending into the background of whatever mundane task might be occupying your time, and adding a filmic level of intensity and funky vitality to it. If there is still a shred of creativity residing in the American film industry, Screenwriters and Directors are writing checks at this very moment with the hope of including pieces of this tapestry into their future movie soundtracks.
Whatever random backstage encounter, brilliant marketing meeting, or incredible cocktail party led up to Elvis Costello and the Roots co-conspiring on this string of tracks, it was one which had to happen. Wise Up Ghost is a walk from brightly lit streets to dark alleys, from foreboding to beautiful and back again, more than once or twice. Not only that, it’s capable of breathing new hope into the jaded lungs of -say- a longtime Elvis Costello fan who may have given in to wondering if he’s just taking us through the motions at this point. Sure, he may be. But when he does it this well, who can blame him?
Far from just being effective, this CD is trend-worthy. Between listening to it, then turning around an listening to it again, you might be led to wonder and hope for what could happen if The Roots put in a phone call to David Bowie next, or perhaps Lou Reed.
No. Not Lou. He still has to earn his way back into or good graces for whatever that Metallica debacle was. But definitely Bowie.
Suggested Use: Play in the background during that first “hook up” with someone whom you know you want to stay until morning.
-Robby Robb (MMXIII)
6 months ago
“Is this the end of the beginning, or the beginning of the end?”
Ozzy Osbourne’s characteristically cryptic double-speak introduction to the new Black Sabbath LP, 13, trumpets the oncoming onslaught by letting everyone who has ever wrenched their necks to classic tracks like Paranoid, Children of the Grave, and Iron Man know full well what is to come. This is the first studio collaboration between Heavy Metal demigods Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, and Geezer Butler in 3.5 decades, and it is not one they are prepared to take lightly.
In this cynical entertainment world, one more painfully lackluster reunion recording by a group of aging, overfed legends would have been all too easy for jaded Rock fans to chew up and spit by the wayside. Which makes it all the more rewarding to hear that the undeniable fathers of modern Heavy Metal brought their A-game to this storied revival.
Coming from a band whose influence literally spans two generations, 13 may represent different things to different people. For more mature aficionados, it is not a reunion album so much as a frighteningly vivid flashback to an era before Rock stars expanded their fashion horizons from denim and spandex into studded black leather. While for younger Heavy Metal fans, it might feel like one of those rare lectures from an elder during which you suddenly find yourself paying attention.
This is not your father’s Black Sabbath album. (Unless your father was an angry, long-haired, miscreant during the 1970s, in which case this is every bit your father’s Black Sabbath album). Those who watched MTV in agony as an obviously medically overmedicated Ozzy Osbourne shuffled around his Beverly Hills kitchen shouting for “SHAARROOONN!” like someone’s unfortunate grandfather have nothing to fear from the 13 experience. The old and improved Ozzy is not only fully lucid, but sounds more at home in his classic, sneering vocal delivery than he has since his earliest solo albums, while Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler hammer together the same brand of technologically primitive, but technically brutal, guitar and bass lines that are still influencing Musicians one third their age.
The absence of original Drummer Bill Ward (due to different reasons depending on whose story you believe) is a sad historical asterisk, but Rage Against The Machine Drummer, Brad Wilk gives an effective approximation, and Producer Rick Rubin’s unassailable headbanger credibility and obvious devotion to the project gives the disc a decidedly originalist feel.
True, these Birmingham boys are still hardly avant garde poets. The lyrical themes on death, dying, demons, drugs, and dementia might seem a tad recycled by the album’s second half. But when the stories you first started telling 40 years ago have been reiterated by countless others since, you might well be forgiven for sounding like you’re repeating yourself.
The witch-y darkness and horror movie aesthetics oozing from 13 might seem quaint by today’s standards, but they scared the hell out of respectable people back when they appeared on record store racks alongside the relatively benign likes of The Doors, Led Zeppelin, and David Bowie, and they still make for a hellishly enjoyable listen.
-Hit “Repeat” track: The agelessly rebellious “Pariah” (Available on the 2-disc deluxe package).
-Suggested Use: Play at full volume to annoy your One Direction-loving children, or to convince your parents that it came out 30 years ago, but they don’t remember it “for some reason.”
© Robby Robb (MMXIII)10 months ago
As of today, there may be two classes of live Rock fans in Miami-Dade County: those who attended Radioboxer’s final performance at The Annex in Hialeah, and those who will one day falsely and wishfully claim that they did.
In an unmarked rented warehouse space somewhere in the shadow of Hialeah’s particularly hectic stretch of State Road 826 lies what may be the closest thing the surrounding county has to an underground Rock club. It’s here, at The Annex, where the city’s budding “Bi-Polar Power Pop” darlings played their first organized gig some 6 years ago, and it’s here that they fittingly played their farewell nod to a modest, but devoted, crowd of fans who brought with them both a sad affection for the band’s passing into local history, and an appropriately ferocious sense of celebration.
Always the generous hosts, the headliners remanded the warm-up slots for the show to two of their own favorite homegrown musical entities.
One man-Organic/Electronica junta Boxwood warmed up the word-of-mouth invited audience with his singular blend of technological savvy and Singer/Songwriter sensibility. Armed with a single acoustic/electric guitar, a Loop Master, an electronic drum pad, an array of effects pedals for which some thrilled Guitar Center Sales Rep is still probably celebrating his commission, and a voice tinged with the lush artistic anguish of a youthful Robert Smith, the lone Artist, otherwise known as Jose Ferrer, deftly intertwined intricate backbeats, bass riffs and guitar melodies with introspective lyrics into an entrancing homage to the Electronica pioneers of the 1980’s and early 90’s.
Following were the beloved Hialeah forbears to whom Radioboxer founders Jota and Vanne Dazza owe so much of their local success and inspiration, the erstwhile Humbert, whose brutal musicianship and almost psychic tightness as a musical unit has allowed them to dazzle fellow local Artists for years –often despite an admittedly bare minimum of rehearsal and planning. To describe Humbert in genre-specific terms would be difficult at best, but to imagine the combined influences of the Beatles, the Flaming Lips, early David Bowie, and a slight-to-moderate tinge of undiagnosed mental illness might lead one onto the right path.
As for the Radioboxer set itself, it would be difficult for this Writer to describe the pageantry involved without indulging in self-repetition. Suffice it to say, all of the trademark elements were in prominent effect.
The frightening performance energy, the stripping shirtless and subjugation of both male and female audience members as furniture, props, and transportation at the hands of Lead Singer/Force of Nature, Vanne Dazza, the spilling of stage blood, the showering of attendants in beer, the reckless disregard for stained and distended clothing, and of course the violent sacrificing of seemingly innocent musical equipment were not only unrestrained at this final hurrah, but were celebrated, as were the intrepidity and importance of all South Florida Musicians and the current flourishing of the Miami music scene.
At present, the persons responsible for bringing their beloved locale so much joy and inspiration under the name of Radioboxer have not offered details as to their future musical plans –at least not to the loose lipped likes of this Writer- but to assume that we’ve seen the final incarnation of such a creative and boundlessly energetic pair is both unrealistic and too painful to believe.
The smart money is on keeping your eyes open. And, in the meantime:
SUPPORT LOCAL MUSIC!!
-©Robby Robb MMXIII
Boxwood Power in Action
Humbert plays with madness
Queen Vanne among her loyal subjects10 months ago
Webster’s defines “legend” as “an unverifiable story handed down by tradition from earlier times and popularly accepted as historical.” True, if they were so inclined, Webster’s might also define “hack” as “any writer who begins a piece with a Webster’s definition.” But if they ever tried to mount an internet search for verifiable information on the Singer, Songwriter, Storyteller, Multi-Instrumentalist, Former Hobo (No, not urbanized homeless person, I mean railroad-riding hobo.), arguable legend, and living piece of musical Americana known as Seasick Steve, the Webster’s staff might be a bit more forgiving.
Was he or wasn’t he a friend of Janis Joplin and Kurt Cobain? Did he or did he not spend his younger years riding the rails of the US freight railway system, living in hobo camps, and picking produce for any possible pittance? Most importantly, when you hear him grind out a flawless Blues jam on a slide guitar made out of a piece of lumber and two hubcaps, do any of these other answers really matter?
What Seasick Steve is, is the proud father of a sixth studio album of unapologetically organic Country, Blues, Blues/Country, and Country/Blues compositions recorded on a four-track tape recorder in a barn, and collectively entitled Hubcap Music. That is, we can hope he’s proud, because he has reason to be.
Hubcap Music is, from its first chord, the most heavily produced effort yet by a man known for recording entire albums on homemade 3-string guitars made of cigar boxes and one-string “diddly bows” made of wooden planks and broom wire. But to say this makes it more polished than its predecessors would be a bare-faced lie. If anything the step up in depth and volume makes the resulting sounds even more raw and primitive.
The opening track (“Down On The Farm”) is hard-driving enough to be mistaken for an early Molly Hatchet track, if you forget that the author is old enough to have sired any of those youngsters, and its bluesy follower (“Self Sufficient Man”) changes gears hard enough to make you wonder about the skin tone of the man behind the microphone. From there, the track list runs through a hot fried buffet of Blues and Country-laced jams sure to make even the most devoted modernist doubt the day he turned his nose up at his father’s Waylon Jennings or Buddy Guy records.
If Seasick Steve’s violently rootsy music could be the stuff of term papers for Music History students, then Hubcap Music could be yet another chapter. It combines the unfiltered rhythm and power of the Delta Blues and the melodic sensibilities of classic Country with the immediate ease of someone who simply doesn’t see the imaginary lines separating the two. The result of that combination, as mid-20th century history tells us, is something viscerally akin to Rock & Roll.
Try it if you can find it. You see, athough Seasick Steve is a living, breathing example of all things American, he is also –like Jimi Hendrix- an expatriate whose work is far more popular in the UK, and his new CD, which has at this point been released for a week, is thus far unavailable via Amazon or iTunes
*Hit “Repeat” Track: the excruciatingly beautiful Purple Shadows
*Suggested Use: Getting your friend who “hates Country music” to shut up. Or at least drowning them out for 40 minutes.
-(c) Robby Robb MMXIII
Seasick Steve - Don’t let the mild looks fool you11 months ago
What started as essentially a backyard barbeque in the distant days of 2007 had, by 2010, grown into a 2,000-headed musical and artistic monster taking up an annual chunk of Virginia Key, and, if local Musician, Booking Agent, and Promoter, Eric Garcia has his way, is mere days away from devouring a hefty helping of downtown Miami.
Swamp Stomp, the local music and good vibes faire, which began as a party thrown by a pair of local musicians, and soon grew to hold sway over legendary Miami-style juke joint Jimbo’s Place, is being revived from a brief hiatus next week at Miami’s oldest bar, Tobacco Road.
“Tobacco Road may not be on the water, but it definitely has that ‘swampy’ vibe” according to Garcia, a participating performer in every Swamp Stomp thus far, who’s maintaining the festival’s presence as a labor of love. It also has the parking lot space and chutzpah to host a projected 2,000-strong crowd of those who realize there is a Miami music scene that extends well beyond the DJ-dominated cosmetic surgery showrooms of South Beach.
As with most collections of local artists, eclecticism will abound at this little fete. Three stages will be required to carry all of the weight, as bands from as far away as Denmark (The Brothers Moving) and as close-by as your noisy next-door neighbor’s house serve up seemingly every style of music readily imaginable.
While the grill masters in the Tobacco Road kitchen serve up “Swamp Burgers” (smothered in alligator meat chili and pepper jack cheese, and conceived especially for this occasion) the sonic menu will be laden with two-tone style Ska and Reggae flavors (Stop the Presses, Bento Box), asphalt-hot Latin fusion (Spam Allstars, Los Bastardos Magnificos), hard driving Blues (Juke, Bobby Lee Rogers), Funk/Soul/Hip Hop blends of varying ferocity (The Politix, Big Tasty, Nag Champayons, Urban Rebel) and even a highly unlikely side of Bluegrass (The Wholetones). To round out the bill, “the Road” will host Coconut Grove busker-turned original band leader, Robbie Hunter, one man band Lone Wolf, Jazz heiress, Omine, local Producer, Y-Diz, Swamp Stomp co-founders Parker Smith, and Ryan Gregg, and stage-wrecking SoFLo sweethearts Radioboxer, whose display of “bi-polar Power Pop” is even more fun to watch than they make it sound.
Swamp Stomp organizers have also proven no slouches in drawing talent from well beyond the (305) area code. Saturday evening will be capped by performances from NYC’s nine piece neo-Soul collective Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds, and –in a thrilling coup for true fans of (unintentionally) “underground” music- legendary headliners Fishbone, who, with their groundbreaking blend of Funk, Punk, Soul, Ska, and Thrash Metal and their undisputed championship stage presence, have spent the past 25 years battling obscurity, and leaving a score of more commercially successful bands indebted to their influence. Mention Fishbone to the average Red Hot Chili Peppers, Sublime, Primus, or No Doubt fan, and you’re likely to draw a blank stare. Mention Fishbone to any member of any of those bands and you’re sure to hear an extended treatise on their greatness.
To say their appearance alone is not worth the price of admission would be uncharacteristically objective of the Writer of this piece, so, in the interest of journalistic objectivity, it would be best to end this article now.
Swamp Stomp 2013 takes place Saturday, February 16th, 2013 at Tobacco Road. Tickets are available at the venue or via SwampStompMusicFestival.com.
© -Robby Robb (MMXIII)
1 year ago