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soundbites
April 06

BOBBY PREVITEBREW JAMHAWTHORNE HEIGHTS
YEA YEA YEASJOEL KRAFTLIZZIE WEST & THE WHITE BUFFALO

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Bobby Previte
The Coalition of the Willing
Ropeadope Records

The other night, while watching some late night Tele, this little critic had an epiphany of a question after viewing episodes of Space: 1999 and Night Gallery back to back.

Hey, what every happened to free-form instrumental electronic jazz, anyway? If you’re old enough, you might remember the stuff from movies and such: Some action or chase scene would start, and suddenly a funky drum beat would thump, a jazz guitar riff would kick in, followed by horns and lengthy keyboard solos that mixed both jazz and experimental soundscapes in a haze of ‘70s malaise and shiny polyester funk. It’s a sound still as bizarre today as it was then, something that can be both appealing and unsettling, like getting to go to a nicely catered train wreck.

Then, guess what happens the very next day? A brand new CD by New Yorker Bobby Previte, a long-time player in the jazz/rock scene who was once given Rolling Stone’s “Hot Jazz Artist of the Year” award, came sliding onto the ol’ eKC’s expansive and mighty offices, and lo, my question was answered.

The Coalition of the Willing is really quite a coalition of an album, with numerous revolving changes in the group line-up, all held together by Previte’s seeming endless drumming styles. These cuts are long (the shortest one is 4:46 minutes), without vocals, and none of them end in the same style they started in. Some of the solos make your head spin. Jazz, funk, rock, reggae, classic compositions, ‘70s electro-fuzz, name it, it’s here.

While this is unquestionably an acquired taste, if you like free-form jazz riffs you will freakin love this baby, and for the simple fact that an excellent musician has chosen to make an eclectic and personal collection of songs instead of something more commercial (and radio friendly). Salute this coalition, willingly or not. www.ropeadope.comBrandon Whitehead (posted 04/21/06)


Brew Jam
12 Years of Sundays
Box of Chalk Inc.

It was around this time 12 years ago when the Brew Jam started kicking it up at the 75th Street Brewery in Waldo. It was — and remains — one of the best things that ever happened to the place, maybe even more than the beer.

12 Years of Sundays, recorded live except for one cut, opens with Bobby Bloom’s 1970 hit “Montego Bay.” It’s a perfect showcase for the Brew Jam’s musical philosophy of singing and playing in a way that celebrates life — the ups and the downs. Bassist Andy Dewitt takes lead vocal, stirring the lyrics in anticipation of white-foam fun in sun and surf. Percussionists Ray DeMarchi seasons the favor with island beats and Greg Camp’s lead guitar sets up Dewitt’s bass for the transition to rum-sipping mellowness. Only thing left is the image of Mark Valentine playing rhythm guitar in one of his signature Hawaiian silk shirts.

Camp lays out a mean heartache with Bo Diddley’s “Before You Accuse Me” and is more than exceptional delivering the anti-war classic “Sam Stone,” written by John Prine. Valentine shakes open his gravel voice for “Midnight Special,” backed by “Mouse” Mayoski on harp. Valentine’s soul shines too in “Easy Money,” a song that’s not Billy Joel’s take, not Nick Cave’s lyrics and doesn’t resemble what King Crimson recorded. And Dr. Hook would be proud of Valentine’s rasp in “Sylvia’s Mother.”

Sure, the Brew Jam covers other artists’ songs. But damn, if you want to feel good, listen to talent aged the KC way, then drop in Sunday night at the 75th Street Brewery. It’s a great way to shake the clouds away. —Bruce Rodgers (posted 04/07/06)


Hawthorne Heights
If Only You Were Lonely
Victory Records

Hawthorn Heights is probably one of the most successful Emo bands around, considering their debut CD is headed for platinum and their current tour with the like of Fall Out Boy and The All-American Rejects is almost a lock for success. While most critics have been somewhat flummoxed by the appeal of Emo (short for “Emotional”, with lots of screaming and thrashing around backed by a sort-of “Hey, look at me” attitude and ballad-type arrangements), there’s no doubt someone is making a lot of money off these boys, and as we all know, money talks, baby.

The appeal of songs like the first track “This is Who We Are,” which seems pre-made for an appearance on The OC soundtrack, is the heavy tinted pop, complete with layered guitars (on most tracks it sounds like about five lead guitars are mixed together). Add a little falsetto singing and you’ve got the perfect combination to get fifteen-year old girls alternately cheering and crying like the worst case of menopause ever. It doesn’t hurt that these guys all have hipster white suburban names like “JT” and “Eron” and, of course, the “Lil’ Sleepy Head” hairdo’s favored by male barristas everywhere.

The songs are simple and basically melodic, and strangely enough evoke the memory of classic Bon Jovi power ballads that can still rock a forty-year old housewife’s world. Whether you like this stuff or not, get used to it, because every label out there is grabbin’ up any band with pale, androgynous young boy who can scream like girls and firing them out of their PR cannons at any music fan they can find. At least you won’t be lonely. www.victoryrecords.comBrandon Whitehead (posted 04/07/06)


Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Show Your Bones
Interscope Records

Typically described as “New York Punk-Art-Rock,” the trio that calls themselves the Yeah Yeah Yeahs debut album Fever to Tell came out to raves for critics and fans alike. Alternately quirky and hard rockin’, and fronted by their exhibitionist singer Karen O., the Yeahs are a band that Andy Warhol would have loved. Their second album, Show Your Bones is a little more reserved, and also more mature. Oh, don’t get it wrong: this is just a sleazy and punky as the first, coming of like the bastard offspring of David Bowie and Devo.

There are a few missteps here, the weakest track probably being ‘Honeybear,” but Karen, Nick Zinner and Brian Chase make up for that with other tracks like “Phenomena,” which could have been a Velvet Underground creation, and the eerie and simple “Turn Into,” showcasing Karen O’s smoky, groaning vocal abilities (man, it’s nice to hear a female singer who doesn’t sing so high she sounds like a bird being stepped on...).

Really, the only complaint here is the lack of a DVD of their live performances. If a band is renowned for their live acts, why ignore that? While this isn’t exactly the same as their first album (and many critics are already jumpin’ on that dog), it shows something most musicians rarely do: changing what already works just for the hell of it. Their ain’t no bones about that. www.yeahyeahyeahs.comBrandon Whitehead
(posted 04/07/06)


Joel Kraft
Big Ideas
Blinking Light Records

Songwriter/Singer Joel Kraft is a strange guy. A long-time local on the open-mic circuit in the Midtown area, Kraft is known for his quirky pop arrangements, odd instruments (can you say “Glockenspiel?”) and generally lush and creative lyrics. His debut album Big Ideas carries on that tradition admirably, with eleven tracks of crisp and infectious pop that glints like a shiny new toy that even adults can't resist wanting to play with.

Backed up by numerous friends like Nick Baker on drums and Matt Wilber with some interesting work on the trombone, the real delight here is Kraft's lyrics. Mixing muses of cotton candy thoughts and magic paper hats, Kraft manages some of the most poetic and evocative vocals to be heard in a long time, most of which could give the likes of Ani Difranco or Grayson Capps a run for their money. Take these lines from the third track, Raisins:

"Raisins in my coffee, toothpaste in my hand,
everything's exotic if you know where to stand,
but we've been bored for two hundred years or more,
shipwrecked on this cold Atlantic shore."

Indeed, one of the best things Kraft did is to include all the lyrics in the liner notes. More than a few chat books couldn't match up to the poetry he weaves so simply and unpretentiously into the music. It doesn't hurt that he's a hell of a singer too, often managing a light falsetto that rolls down to a rich earthiness with the greatest of ease.

If you want a good idea yourself, join Kraft for his CD release party at the Westport Coffeehouse Theater, at 7:30 p.m. and 9 p.m., April 29. Tickets are a measly $7 and can be purchased at www.joelkraft.net. Who knows, if your lucky, maybe he'll let you play with his Glockenspiel. —Brandon Whitehead (posted 03/31/06)


Lizzie West & The White Buffalo
I Pledge Allegiance to Myself
Appleseed

There is no question that the behind-the-scenes reality of the music industry is far from the big smiles and handshakes that happen when the cameras are on. Lizzie West's 2003 debut CD, Holy Road: Freedom Songs, was acclaimed by critics, leading to touring with the likes of Chris Issac and soundtrack spots on shows like Everwood and Dawson's Creek. But, surprising as it sounds, the corporate world had little appeal to a songwriter know for her strong beliefs in independence and music's liberal traditions in a media-world that values big boobs and vapid sexuality over ability and creativity.

So, luckily for us, Lizzie walked away from her mega-label and went to independent label Appleseed Recordings and started anew. With fourteen tracks, I Pledge Allegiance to Myself is a reminder of what freedom of mind and spirit can do to an artist's music. Filled with strong, feminine attitude and simple chords that stand on their own, Lizzie's music is a mix of originals and cover songs (including an eerie and wonderfully melodic version of Bob Marley & The Wailers' “Get Up, Stand Up”) that come straight from the folk and rock of the ‘60s.

Being sultry and sexy, “Rope Me In and Smoke Me” is fun and bluesy, while “God Damn That Man” is filled with the heartbreak of loss. Backed up by her long-time collaborator and partner, Anthony Kieraldo (a k a the White Buffalo), Lizzie West has created an album to be proud of, one in defiance of a system that often can't recognize that music is about people not their bank accounts. Now that's something worth pledging to www.appleseedrec.com/lizziewest/Brandon Whitehead (posted 03/31/06)

 
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