Random Stabbings & Artless Critique (6/9/2010)

Taking stock of current releases

Carrie Rodriguez

Love and Circumstances

(RED Distribution)

Doomed to be unfairly overlooked by pundits beholden to bigger-label offal, this cover set of country and Americana tunes that have influenced Rodriguez has a tastiness and sweetness that’s rare for a Sheryl Crow chaser. Rodriguez’ tone is one bit Taylor Swift, one bit Lisa Loeb, but her waifishness is tempered with a Joan Osborne maturity, straightforward, and thankfully, free of forced croaks for decorative value. The first standout is Buddy and Julie Miller’s “Wide River to Cross,” its arpeggiated guitar evoking morning lake-water (Buddy himself provides a smoky harmony that looms larger as the guitars plug in and get loud).  The marquee track is a finger-picked version of “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” whose main thrust is spotlighting Rodriguez’ bang-on vocal technicality. One influence is Rodriguez’ own dad, David, whose insidiously gorgeous Americana tune “When I Heard Gypsy Davy Sing” is rendered in the aloof but pleasant tradition of Eastmountainsouth, a good touchstone comparison act, being that this is isn’t world-weary stuff, nor overtly commercial, but simply an understated triumph. Grade: A


The Constellations

Southern Gothic

(Virgin Records)

You’ll be hearing a lot about this album, what with Virgin doling out free CDs to reviewers the way AOL used to stuff your mailbox with sign-up disks (feeling flattered, a lot of novice reviewers will talk about how rockin’ it is, which has been proven to create a weird trickle-up effect, like what happened with the comically overrated TV On the Radio).  The PR angle for this Atlanta band is that they’re reviving hiphop by adding a darker edge, which I suppose is true if you only count the Cee-Lo-guested “Love is a Murder,” kind of (rapping in actual musical keys is going to save the world?).  The real takeaway is hideously commercial alt-rock, a cynical pandering to small-city

hipster nitwits, with singer Elijah Jones mumbling his lines in a factory-issue Eminem/Beck drone-drawl that the Madison Avenue jerks will be jumping on in no time to vibe up their Ford Focus commercials. Any rebellion will be quickly crushed, trust me: there’s simply too much “Tom Waits cover song! Hot chick backup singers!” dingbat couture being microwaved here for anyone or anything to stop it.

Grade: C

Dave Glasser

Evolution

(Here Tiz Music)

I remain vulnerable to neo-throwback-bebop for now, sax players in specific, and Glasser’s meandering, Thelonious Monk-worshipping quartet is set-it-forget-it ambiance for whatever-whenever. Glasser’s alto resided with the Clark Terry Quintet for ten years before spending a couple of years with the all-star Count Basie circus. Not a lot of newness here, as Monk’s the game, which is no secret, even in the song titles; I kept expecting to hear some crazy-ass honking during the original “Monkish,” within which Glasser flirts with modality for only a few bars, while solos by bassist Jeff Campbell and pianist John Nyerges stick to the rules.  “Monk’s Blues” is a self-explanatory original from Nyerges, who mainly stays back to support Glasser’s airy whims; any flat-out speed is relegated to a cover of Monk’s 1957 “Rhythm-a-ning,” a wanton display of “I’ve Got Rhythm” fetish.

Grade: B+

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