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Sept. '04

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PJ Harvey
Uh Huh HerIsland

Within the liner notes of Polly Jean Harvey’s seventh album, there are no lyrics, but photographs of the singer — taken by her over the years — with Brian Eno-esque footnotes dictating the process of making Uh Huh Her (“Too normal? Too PJH?” “Turned up loud, but playing gently.”). It documents a conscious effort to get away from herself, to oppose her instincts and make an album unlike her previous efforts.

On 2000’s Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea, she absorbed the studio as much as she absorbed the moods of New York City; on Uh Huh Her, she strips the songs down on mostly 4-track and 8-track recordings, giving it the feel of a demo. The result is a bare and intoxicating aberration that exposes Harvey artistically, if not personally. Deviating from the production glitz of Stories, Uh Huh Her is more skittish, layering Harvey’s lush whispers with her monotonous incantations and hysterical shrieks. This, coupled with the stranglehold of murky guitars and noticeable lack of percussion, creates a hollowed out yet rich sound.

Lyrically, Harvey is wry and austere, mixing sexy metaphors (“The Letter”) with explicit overtures (“The Life and Death of Mr. Badmouth”). The words perfectly match the restlessness of the music yet never really expose the artist. Turning each note inside out, Harvey emotes the feelings behind the words not the stories behind them.

With Harvey’s recently announced plans to visit the Uptown next month, it will be intriguing to see how she matches the minimal production of this album with the cavernous acoustics of the venue. To achieve maximum results, she may have to follow her own advice and turn up the volume and play gently. It works beautifully here. —Gillian Titus (Posted 9/24/04)

Thievery Corporation
The Outernational Sound Eighteenth Street Lounge Music

The Hives

Although there are probably fewer and fewer vinyl junkies who haven’t discovered the treasures of lost musical artifacts online, Thievery Corporation’s Rob Garza and Eric Hilton continue to save everyone the trouble by making rather eclectic and esoteric collections like The Outernational Sound. A thematic follow up to 2001’s acid jazz compilation, Sounds from the Verve Hi-Fi.

The Outernational Sound is a trippy and occasionally goofy soundtrack for a long road trip or an even longer day behind a desk.
Like true mix-tape freaks, Garza and Hilton have Googled a magical collection of tracks that even the most rabid record collector would be hard pressed to recognize. Whether it’s the swinging elevator pizzazz of David Snell’s “International Flight” or the extra-spicy beat of the Karminsky Experience’s “Shall We Dance,” this is globetrotting music for the most discerning ear.

Like the Verve compilation, The Outernational Sound never strays far from the lounge, featuring the jazz funk of Thievery Corporation’s own “Lagos Communique” and the hallucinogenic haze of Thunderball’s “Vai Vai.” There are a few minor sidesteps into silliness, like Alan Moorhouse’s “Expo in Tokyo,” but by then you’ve been softened by the CD’s mellow appeal.

A hypnotic compendium for any time of day, the Outernational sounds good when trying to find your destination or when trying to get lost. —Gillian Titus (Posted 9/24/04)


The Bo-Keys
The Royal SessionsYellow Dog Records

Let’s see...Kansas City has its jazz moniker, Chicago, electric blues, then there’s New York punk and don’t forget the San Francisco psychedelia sound. Anything missing?

Here’s a hint: Take a Hammond B-3 organ, a wah-wah guitar, a trumpet and a sax and, of course, the requisite drums and bass — all pouring forth from The Royal Sessions.

Still don’t know? Say fool...it’s Memphis soul we’re talkin’ bout.

With the release of The Royal Sessions, The Bo-Keys shook the musical memory tree earlier this year with a sound seasoned and simmered, updated and relevant. And what a collection of players, led most aptly by Charles “Skip” Pitts on guitar, famous forever for his creative stamp on Isaac Hayes’ Oscar-winning “Theme From Shaft,” and touch-the-spirit organ player Ronnie Williams.

Every cut works, makin’ the headphones stay on. Williams on the B-3 keeps the sound layered, doing everything from left hand runs across the keys, to dewdrop plops and lingering note massages. The best cut — among all the “best” cuts — is “Spanish Delight.” The Hammond starts out front, pushing a high-end sound against Jim Spake’s low baritone sax as Pitts picks in the background on rhythm. Then the transition begins as Pitts takes the lead, his licks cutting sharp, and Williams’ Hammond fades. It’s a little rock ‘n’ soul. Then again the Hammond moves to the front and that B-3 “Am-I-in-church?” sound carries you out.

Pitts gets bluesy on “Back at the Chicken Shack” as Williams’ right hand begins to move on the Hammond. Marc Franklin adds a confident trumpet on the opening cut “Coming Home Baby,” and throughout Willie Hall on drums and Scott Bomar on bass lend righteous weight. Without going totally retro in CD purchases, take in The Bo-Keys for a Memphis soul run. —Bruce Rodgers (Posted 9/23/04)

A Ghost Is Born Nonesuch

The Hives

On Wilco’s latest, A Ghost Is Born, the band proves that oblivion and harmony aren’t mutually exclusive. Produced by the band with Sonic Youth’s Jim O’Rourke, Ghost is caught somewhere between the aural experimentation on 2002’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and the pulsating simplicity of 1995’s A.M. Melodies crash and burn in the middle of such blistering tracks as “At Least That’s What You Said,” and “Spiders (Kidsmoke).” But rather than leave chunks of scrap metal, the band bends and mends each tune, chugging along almost perfunctorily, allowing itself to break down, veer off into the unknown and regroup, roaring to the finish line.

An incongruous juxtaposition of wailing organs and cracking guitars, Ghost is delicately balanced on the vocal chords of Jeff Tweedy, who wrings tender pathos out of every note, most deftly on such lilting numbers as “Handshake Drugs” and “Company in My Back.”

Lyrically aloof, Tweedy is evocative, but never direct. “His goal in life was to be an echo/riding alone, town after town, toll after toll/a fixed bayonet through the great southwest/to forget her,” he sings on “Hummingbird.” More of an observer who empathizes with the listener, Tweedy never exposes himself for all to hear. Inciting metaphors rather than personal experiences to paint the moods of his songs, his words are furtively crafted.

A teetering balance of brutal instrumentation and sly lyricism, Ghost reveals that Wilco is at its best when the songs are seemingly headed for the very worst. —Gillian Titus (Posted 9/10/04)

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