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Derek Richardson's best of 2004 (so far)

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  • Carl Zimring
    ...and some upcoming releases of interest for the second half of the year. Midyear Finest The best of the year so far,
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 3 6:21 AM
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      ...and some upcoming releases of interest for the second half of the year.


      Midyear Finest
      The best of the year so far, and what to look forward to

      by Derk Richardson, special to SF Gate
      Thursday, July 29, 2004

      If the music that has been released since January is any indication, we
      might yet look back at 2004 as a very good year.

      True, even the most compelling new pop albums -- such as i, from the
      Magnetic Fields (which you read about here) and Wilco's A Ghost Is Born, or
      Kings of Convenience's beguiling Riot on an Empty Street and Badly Drawn
      Boy's One Plus One Is One, both new in stores this week -- offer little
      more than temporary relief from the dispiriting realities of war,
      homelessness and unaffordable health care.

      And, indeed, music alone can't slay what resurgent folk troubadour Donovan
      identifies as the natural enemy of bohemianism, the Janus-headed monster of
      hypocrisy and greed. But deft lyrics and creatively organized instrumental
      sound can tweak our perspective, uncloud our vision and refresh our
      resources of wisdom and compassion. Looking for those qualities (while
      granting that channeling anger, frustration or sexual energy into beats,
      rhymes and crunching guitar chords produces a lot of great pop that will
      not get due recognition here) leads me to this (approximately) midyear
      roundup of CDs that should not escape your attention, plus a preview of
      promising releases to watch for in the coming months.

      James Talley, Journey (Cimarron). Many songs have been written in the wake
      of Sept. 11, but few manifest the empathy and understanding of Talley's "I
      Saw the Buildings," a lucid and heartbreaking 10-minute epic that the
      Nashville veteran recorded live in Italy in 2002, along with four other
      previously unreleased songs and nine of his classic outlaw-country

      The Websters and Scott Nygaard, Ten Thousand Miles (Lot of Rabbits
      Records). Known to Northern California audiences as lead singer with the
      New Orleans-influenced eclectic dance band Mumbo Gumbo, Chris Webster joins
      her operatically trained sister Cassie and acoustic guitarist Scott Nygaard
      (former member of bluegrass ace Tim O'Brien's band) for the most gorgeous
      contemporary roots-folk album this side of Gillian Welch.

      Sam Phillips, A Boot and a Shoe (Nonesuch). Having settled on a basically
      acoustic folk-swing sound that suits her dry singing style, Phillips comes
      up with the wittiest and most poignant lyrics of her career, from "Help is
      coming / Help is coming / One day late / One day late" to "Give up the
      ground under your feet / Hold on to nothing for good / Turn and run at the
      mean dogs chasing you / Stand alone and misunderstood."

      Jim White, Drill a Hole in that Substrate and Tell Me What You See (Luaka
      Bop). The eccentric Floridian follows up 1997's Wrong-Eyed Jesus and 2001's
      No Such Place with more spooky Southern short stories, upping the sonic
      intrigue with production help from Joe Henry and Tucker Martine and guest
      appearances by Aimee Mann, Mary Gauthier, M. Ward, the Sadies, Barenaked
      Ladies, Oh Susanna and others.

      Devendra Banhart, Rejoicing in the Hands (Young God Records). By this time
      next year, bearded bard Banhart might well be gracing the covers of major
      music magazines, spearheading an acid-folk revival marked by John
      Fahey-influenced acoustic guitar picking, psychedelic imagery and vocal
      styles owing to Donovan, Nick Drake and Tiny Tim. Thank him for bringing
      attention to and perhaps inspiring a new album from the long-lost Vashti
      Bunyan. See also Iron & Wine, Our Endless Numbered Days (Sub Pop);
      CocoRosie, La Maison de Mon Reve (Touch & Go); and Animal Collective, Sung
      Tongs (Fat Cat Records).

      Marilyn Crispell Trio, Storyteller (ECM). Since signing to ECM in 1997,
      pianist Crispell has toned down, or at least slowed down, her Cecil
      Taylor-inspired abstractions, revealing the stark lyricism of her tautly
      conceived melodies and harmonies. With bassist Mark Helias and drummer Paul
      Motian, she has recorded another radiant, multifaceted album that sets the
      standard for contemplative modern-jazz piano trios in the new millennium.

      Nels Cline and Vinny Golia, The Entire Time (Nine Winds). Now that he's the
      new guitarist in Wilco, Nels Cline may have less time for his jazz-improv
      experiments, but this duo session with multi-woodwind master and L.A.
      avant-garde mentor Vinny Golia will give "outside" music fans plenty to
      chew on (and reason to check out Cline's relatively underground work on the
      Cryptogramophone and Nine Winds labels). It offers generous amounts of
      Cline's electric-guitar wizardry and effects, plus lots of his seldom-heard
      acoustic steel- and nylon-string plucking, all in dazzling interplay with
      Golia's flutes, saxophones, clarinets and Asian reeds.

      Henry Kaiser and Wadada Leo Smith: Yo Miles, Sky Garden (Cuneiform). A few
      other bands (Bitches Brew, Mushroom, Children on the Corner) are mining the
      jazz-funk legacy of Miles Davis' revolutionary electric period, but
      guitarist Kaiser and trumpeter Smith have deciphered the secret pan-African
      code and unleashed its mysteries in Yo Miles! Their second studio recording
      (downloads of live shows are available to savvy Web surfers) features an
      awesome lineup with bassist Michael Manring, drummer Steve Smith,
      keyboardist Tom Coster, saxophonists Greg Osby and John Tchicai, guitarists
      Chris Muir and Mike Keneally, percussionist Karl Perazzo and special guests
      Zakir Hussain, Dave Creamer and the Rova Saxophone Quartet.

      Looking ahead:

      Aug. 10:
      Tin Hat Trio, Book of Silk (Ropeadope). The bicoastal instrumental
      threesome of Mark Orton (guitar, Dobro, banjo), Carla Kihlstedt (violin,
      viola) and Rob Burger (accordion, piano, pump organ, harmonica, marxophone)
      effectively becomes a quintet with the inclusion of harpist Zeena Parkins
      and tuba player Bryan Smith. As a virtual chamber orchestra, Tin Hat makes
      its most gorgeous, heartrending music to date, born of tragedy and resolved
      in global harmonies and cadences.

      Aug. 24:
      Steve Earle, The Revolution Starts ... Now (Artemis). The song titles
      ("Rich Man's War," "F the CC," "The Revolution Starts Now") and the country
      rocker's determination to get the CD out before the presidential election
      prove that the literate and angry Earle certainly wasn't cowed by the
      reactionaries' reaction to 2002's Jerusalem and "John Walker's Blues."

      Donovan, Beat Café (Appleseed Recordings). The unrepentant flower-power
      bohemian has barely changed his tune on his first album in eight years.
      Accompanied by bassist Danny Thompson, drummer Jim Keltner and
      producer/keyboardist John Chelew, he couches a few cringe-worthy platitudes
      in a snappy sound that's charmingly unafraid to be cool.

      Mike Watt, The Secondman's Middle Stand (Columbia Red/Ink). The former
      Minutemen and fIREHOSE bassist makes up for going seven years without a new
      album with a punk opera featuring organist Pete Mazich, drummer Jerry
      Trebotic and guest vocalist Petra Haden.

      Bill Frisell, Unspeakable (Nonesuch). The soft-spoken but musically
      unstoppable guitarist collaborates with producer Hal Willner on an
      ambitious project that brings in bassist Tony Scherr, drummer Kenny
      Wollesen, percussionist Don Alias, string players Jenny Scheinman, Eyvind
      Kang and Hank Roberts and horn players Steven Bernstein, Curtis Fowlkes and
      Briggan Krauss.

      Aug. 31:
      Dan Bern & the IJBC, My Country II (Messenger). As with Steve Earle, this
      populist troubadour has fashioned his new recording as a political campaign
      weapon; such songs as "President," "Tyranny," "Ostrich Town" and "Torn
      Flag" lead up to his uncouched conclusion that "Bush Must Be Defeated."

      Judy Collins, Judy Collins Sings Leonard Cohen: Democracy (Elektra/Rhino).
      Intended as a tribute to the influential Canadian Zen Buddhist song poet as
      his 70th birthday looms, the veteran folk songbird adds three new
      recordings -- "Democracy," "A Thousand Kisses Deep" and "Night Comes On" --
      to her career-spanning catalog of Cohen covers. A new Leonard Cohen album,
      Dear Heather, is reportedly due Sept. 28.

      Sept. 7:
      Patricia Barber, A Fortnight in Frontenac (Blue Note). Recorded at live
      concerts in France, the triple-threat pianist/composer/singer and her
      loose-limbed but tightly communicative band (guitarist Neal Alger, bassist
      Michael Arnopol and drummer Eric Montzka) dazzle audiences with sly
      originals that range from cultural commentary ("Whiteworld") to
      interpersonal agonies ("Pieces"), plus singular cover versions ("Norwegian
      Wood," "Call Me") at a musical intersection where Joni Mitchell, Laurie
      Anderson and Bill Evans meet.

      Sept. 14:
      Sally Timms, In the World of Him (Touch & Go). The longtime Mekons vocalist
      (the Dusty Springfield of political country punk) finally follows up her
      dreamy 1999 release Cowboy Sally's Twilight Laments for Lost Buckaroos.

      Devendra Banhart, Nino Rojo (Young God Records). Recorded during the same
      sessions as Rejoicing in the Hands, the sequel completes a cryptic
      fairy-tale song cycle that only Banhart truly understands.

      Sept. 21:
      Don Byron, Ivey Divey (Blue Note). Joined by pianist Jason Moran and
      drummer Jack DeJohnette, with appearances by bassist Lonnie Plaxico and
      trumpeter Ralph Alessi, the genre-bending jazz/klezmer clarinetist (and
      tenor saxophonist here) provides the missing links between "I Want to Be
      Happy," "Abie the Fishman" and "In a Silent Way."
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