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Calexico

Tucson-based Americana indie band Calexico makes cultural appropriation sound good, with well-conceived guitar-based melodies about border crossers and journeymen, tinged with mariachi horns and a general sadness. The two main members, Joey Burns and John Convertino, have proven album after album that although there’s nothing quite new under the desert sun, the old sounds can still evoke an abstract nostalgia for the American Southwest that is as beautiful as it is mesmerizing.

Sat., June 15, 7 p.m., 2013

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Calexico+The Dodos

Guitarist-singer Joey Burns and drummer John Convertino add a mostly atmospheric New Orleans tinge to their moody and downbeat Southwestern sound on Calexico’s new Algiers. (Mas mariachi aqui, por favor.) They’re joined by another idiosyncratic and acousti-centric duo, San Francisco’s Meric Long and Logan Kroeber, who offer a credible, somewhat freaky Mumfords alternative to anyone in need of that sort of thing.

Sat., Oct. 13, 6:30 p.m., 2012

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WINE AND SPIRITS

An especially fine installment in City Winery’s new “Pairings” series—you can guess what the concept is here—this double bill brings together Joey Burns and John Convertino of Calexico, the long-running Tucson-based indie-roots outfit, with Keren Ann, the French-Israeli chanteuse who named her 2004 album Nolita after her adopted New York neighborhood. Last year’s Carried to Dust was as appealing an effort as any released under the Calexico name, but what’s often most enjoyable about these guys’ live show is hearing how Burns and Convertino (and their guests) diverge from whatever album they’re pimping at the moment; if you’re really lucky, maybe Jim James will show up for their sweet collaborative version of “Goin’ to Acapulco” from the I’m Not There soundtrack. Keren Ann’s self-titled 2007 disc wasn’t quite as bewitching as the two that preceded it—but it was still pretty darn enchanting.

Tue., March 10, 9 p.m., 2009

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DUST TO DUST

Tucson’s Calexico remains one of the few solid outfits to emerge from the Americana tent during the 1990s. The core duo of Joey Burns and John Convertino—alongside a revolving cast of players and drop-in friends—retains a patented “high lonesome electronica drifter” sound. And yet, they’re always fluid enough to switch up between many poles, including punkish mariachi and punkish psych courtesy of Love. Of course, it helped that my respect was stoked in the forge of Feast of Wire during a season lost in L.A.’s freeways. Mercifully, Calexico’s new Carried to Dust looks set to renovate and refine their commitment to restless experimentation.

Wed., Sept. 24, 8 p.m., 2008

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Dear Mr. President

PICK HITS

GHOSTFACE KILLAH
Fishscale
(Def Jam)
With the crack trade making its hip-hop comeback, Ghost fashions a trend record that ranks with any Biggie or Wu CD. Morally, it’s a retrospective—there’s no attempt to convince us that he’s still in the game or wants to return. But neither will he countenance doubt that he knows whereof he speaks. The stories are as vivid, brutal, and thought-out as any noir, with details that both encompass and surpass the wisdom of “pyrex scholars.” This is a guy with a bald spot who likes cranberry Snapple,
Larry King Live, and women who work for JetBlue. When he asks his boo to turn the flame down a little, he says thank you. His high wail renders extreme anxiety beautiful. And before the music settles into a powerfully souled and sampled Clan-type groove, its screeching intensity has a
Nation of Millions feel.
A PLUS

THE COUP
Pick a Bigger Weapon
(Epitaph)
Boots Riley’s live-in-the-studio funk is as retro as his Afro, and when Talib Kweli percusses next to him you’d think his flow was straight out the Watts Prophets. So call him corny if his Marxist talk makes you nervous. Fact is, the brother’s some writer, with his own Oaktown sound. Marxism fans should start with the two love songs: “Ijustwannalayaroundalldayinbedwithyou” lays out the rationalization of the capitalist workday, while the Silk E. feature “BabyLet’sHaveABabyBeforeBushDo Somethin’Crazy” speaks for itself. Plus the Chomskyite “Head (of State)” also has sex in it, the sponsored “Ass-Breath Killers” will help cure your bootymouth, and “I Love Boosters!” is merely the warmest of many shout-outs to a criminal community he’s too busy to join. Riley understands as well as any songwriter in America how the black poor and other barely employeds get by, and he also understands who’s taking their money, and how. His lesser songs would be dookie gold on an ordinary undie-rap album. And he’s no moralizer: “I’m here to laugh, love, fuck, and drink liquor/And help the damn revolution come quicker.”
A

LOVE IS ALL
Nine Times That Same Song
(What’s Your Rupture?)
A minor, female-fronted Swedish band who may have something to tell us about love when somebody posts the lyrics, but probably won’t, and yes, they sing in English, as in “I know we like the same kind of cheese.” What they can tell us about is the persistence of punk. Unlike the Hives, who I bet they look down on, they’re avant formalists as opposed to pop formalists, twisting funky drumming and weird guitar. Love them for getting excited about these time-honored usages.
A MINUS

PINK
I’m Not Dead
(LaFace/Zomba)
With American Idol rampant, it’s nice to have this emotional hipster sticking her celebrity cred in the stupid world’s face. She overdoes the ballads, but what kind of teen idol could she be if she didn’t? She’s got turf to claim before dropping “Dear Mr. President,” which assumes, correctly, that Bush did coke and teens care about the homeless. If there’s a Bono song like that, the stupid world missed it. And if stardom slips through Pink’s cleavage, she’s got an answer: “You don’t have to like me any more/I’ve got money now.” No, she doesn’t mean it—that’s just a smarter than usual woe-is-stardom song. Much smarter than usual.
A MINUS

PRINCE
3121
(Universal)
It could be argued that music this masterful waives all claim to the sound of surprise—until you pay attention. Sure “Love” and “Satisfied” and “Fury” constitute a standard sequence, keyb funk to torch r&b to u-got-the-rock—but only by genius standards. Sure he overdubs all the time, but he risks letting the Other play bass and drums on the over-under-sideways-down title tune—and then immediately prefabs the cockeyed “Lolita” by himself. The dubiosities he induces NPG fans to collect prove only that geniuses know who their friends are. I’m back to suspecting that, at 47, the Abstemious One can keep laying top-shelf stuff on the public for as long as he’s in the mood. Even if he gets on your nerves, treat him nice.
A MINUS

THE RAKES
Capture/Release
They’re more Wire fans than Wire imitators—looser and louder, comfortable with their middle-class roots in a time when identifying middle class is just a fancier way to point out that you’re oppressed. Nevertheless, a fuller sound can be a problem for a band that sounds something like Wire. Suddenly dynamic tension alone won’t do—you start aiming for rock, for songs, for anthems like “22 Grand Job,” more universal than the immortal “I Am the Fly” itself. Unless you’re way too big for dynamic tension, you won’t nail all that many. But you may get close, like on the U.S.-only “All Too Human.” And for sure you’ll be dynamic. “T Bone”! “Terror!”! One after the other!
A MINUS

THE ROUGH GUIDE TO BHANGRA DANCE
(World Music Network)
Punjabi-based dance music has accrued formula since Rough Guide’s first bhangra comp, and this one pumps identical hyperdrive from boy group, Anglophone pop queen, and subcontinental elder. Only it’s really great hyperdrive—if that’s the same hook again (it is, right?), bring it on. Eventually, soft or folkloric sounds do enter the mix, and how about that? The letdown is a respite if you happen to be tired and does itself proud if you’re not. More more more.
A MINUS

TOM ZÉ
Estudando O Pagode
(Luaka Bop)
This exploration of a sexism fueled by the more blatant injustices of class and race doesn’t cohere, but what “rock opera” does? Anyway, Zé prefers the term “operetta,” and with his avant-garde credentials is free to embrace episodic method. Much of the songs’ philosophical punch is lost i
n the superb translations, a shortfall that probably reflects Zé’s special interest in the male chauvinist samba subgenre “pagode,” the emotional resonances of which can’t impact those who haven’t lived with them. But no other Brazilian composer defies cultural boundaries so eloquently. Whether or not I absorb these songs’ meaning when I read along, at any level of attention I feel the way they straddle pop and avant-garde, natural and mechanical, Brazil and the rest of the world. Those not-quite-metallic scraping noises you keep hearing? They come from one of Zé’s inventions, an instrument crafted from the leaf of the ficus trees that grow all over São Paolo. You blow into it.
A MINUS


Dud of the Month

JUVENILE
Reality Check
(Atlantic)
Juvenile gives better interview than former N.O. labelmate Lil Wayne and appears to be a better guy, but he’s also one more bore whose idea of entertainment is threatening to kill people. A few moments seem real enough—not just “I Know You Know,” in which he reminds his wife that, actually, he doesn’t fuck all those hoes he raps about, but the street-mystique primer “Way I Be Leanin’.” And even there Mike Jones, Paul Wall, and Wacko provide welcome relief from the nasal, constricted, humorless flow he’s gotten on. Later, Fat Joe does the same. I mean, really—Fat Joe?
B MINUS


Honorable Mention

WILLIE NELSON
You Don’t Know Me: The Songs of Cindy Walker
(Lost Highway)
He owns the title tune now too (“Don’t Be Ashamed of Your Age,” “Dusty Skies”).

YEAH YEAH YEAHS
Show Your Bones
(Interscope)
I dig her new Middle America affect, but still don’t wish she was my girlfriend (or daughter) (“Phenomena,” “Turn Into”).

DRIVE-BY TRUCKERS
A Blessing and a Curse
(New West)
Includes title song directed at a trust fund baby I personally am sorry they ever met (“A World of Hurt,” “Goodbye”).

BUILT TO SPILL
You in Reverse
(Warner Bros.)
Like Uncle Neil says, “It’s all one song—except for that flamenco thing” (“Conventional Wisdom,” “Mess With Time”).

DJ DOLORES
Aparelhagem
(Ziriguiboom/Crammed Discs)
Club carnaval of the mind (“De Dar Dó,” “Azougue”).

OLD 97’S
Alive & Wired
(New West)
Their rough and rowdy ways—two CDs worth (“Time Bomb,” “Barrier Reef”).

STEPHEN YERKEY
Metaneonatureboy
(Echo)
Sees all the colors of the Cadillac at the Golden Gate Park Botanical Garden, hitchhikes on the Stinson Beach road (“My Baby Love the Western Violence,” “Link Wray’s Girlfriend”).

TURKISH GROOVE
(Putumayo World Music)
Sweet and stretchy in its commercial version, just like the taffy (Bendeniz, “Kirmizi Biber”; Nilgül, “Pis Pisla”).

X
Live in Los Angeles
(Shout! Factory)
The live album Billy Zoom and their songbook have long deserved (“Johny Hit and Run Paulene,” “Beyond & Back”).

THE ROUGH GUIDE TO URBAN LATINO
(World Music Circuit)
A noisy mess from rock to ska to hip-hop, with catchy politicos prominent and a German for spice (Zona Marginal, “No Mas”; Yerba Brava, “Sos Un Cheto”).

EEF BARZELAY
Bitter Honey
(SpinArt)
The best of these songs are so perfectly put they thrive solo acoustic—but could still use a band (“Ballad of Bitter Honey,” “I Wasn’t Really Drunk”).

THE NEW ORLEANS SOCIAL CLUB
Sing Me Back Home
(Burgundy/Honey Darling)
Mix winning sincerity with formal nostalgia, much like the Cuban franchise holder (Cyrille Neville, “This Is My Country”; John Boutt “Why”).

MC LARS
The Graduate
(Horris)
Never mind the wimp beats—if he were my son I’d be so proud (“Internet Relationships,” “Download This Song”).

BEANIE SIGEL
The B. Coming
(Def Jam)
Scared straight enough to rap about being paranoid (“I Can’t Go On This Way,” “Feel It in the Air”).

JON LANGFORD
Gold Brick
(ROIR)
Music for some occasions (“Workingman’s Palace,” “Lost in America”).

HANK WILLIAMS III
Straight to Hell
(Bruc)
“Kid Rock don’t come from where I come from”—and, oh yeah, “if you thought so goddamn you’re fucking dumb” (“Pills I Took,” “Thrown Out of the Bar”).


Choice Cuts

THE RAKES
“Something Clicked and I Fell Off the Edge”
(Retreat, Dim Mak)

SOUL POSITION
“Keys,” “The Cool Thing to Do”
(Things Go Better With RJ and AL, Rhymesayers Entertainment)

THIRD SIGHT
“Hypothermia”
(Symbionese Liberation Album, Disgruntled/Amalgam Entertainment)

VAN MORRISON
“There Stands the Glass”
(Pay the Devil, Lost Highway)


Duds

CALEXICO
Garden Ruin
(Quarterstick)

CORDERO
En Este Momento
(Bloodshot)

KRIS KRISTOFFERSON
This Old Road
(New West)

LITTLE BROTHER
The Minstrel Show
(Atlantic)

RAY PARKER JR
I’m Free!
(RP)


ADDRESSES:

Crammed Discs, 43 Rue General Patton, 1050 Brussels, Belgium, crammed.be;
Echo, echo.co.uk;
Epitaph, 2798 Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood CA 90026, epitaph.com;
Horris, c/o Nettwerk America, Suite 304, 8730 Wilshire Boulevard,
Beverly Hills CA 90211, nettwerkamerica.com;
Hyena, 250 West 57 Street, Suite 725, NYC 10107, hyenarecords.com;
K, PO Box 7154, Olympia WA 98507, krecs.com;
New West, LLC PO Box 33156, Austin TX 78674-0156, newwestrecords.com;
ROIR, PO Box 501, Prince Street Station, NYC 10012, roir-usa.com;
SpinArt, PO Box 1798, NYC 10156-1798, spinartrecords.com;
tipitinasfoundation.org, tipitinasfoundation.org;
What’s Your Rupture?, whatsyourrupture.com;
World Music Network, 6 Abbeville Mews, 88 Clapham Park Road, London SW4 7BX, England, post@worldmusic.net;

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Pickers With a Hint of a Grin Take on an Idiosyncratic Ouevre

With trepidation I approached the all-star alt-rock love letter to the late guitarist, label founder, archivist, field holler champion, and all-around shaggy super-genius John Fahey: Rare indeed are tribute albums worth listening to twice. My fear was that good-intentioned fans of the music would leach out the pep and wit of Fahey’s idiosyncratic touch and sweat his technique to the detriment of the empathy, invention, playfulness, and joy found between his lines. But luckily, there is a lovely and loose air of thanksgiving to the proceedings, wholly in keeping with Fahey’s all-inclusive spirit. Avatars like Lee Renaldo, Howe Gelb, and Pelt do their best to embroider their own stars and bars onto the fractured fairy tale of a flag that Fahey sewed by hand for years to cloak his bicentennial ghosts and keep the chill off whilst extracting gold from the mud of forgotten rivers. Devendra Banhart proves delicate yet untwee; Calexico’s version of “Dance of Death” almost makes me want to buy a Calexico album. And highest praise of all: Ace mumbler and tribute producer M Ward somehow makes the insufferable Sufjan Stevens downright sufferable during that statesman’s yuletidy stroll through Magruder Park.

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Rolling Asunder

A no-depressionist’s wet dream come true, the Iron and Wine–meets-Calexico pairing came through New York for an ambitious three nights, billing themselves as a modern-day “Band meets Dylan.” Calexico assumed the role of Robbie Robertson and company, and Sam Beam was Bob, but let’s face it: The Last Waltz and the Rolling Thunder Revue tour are crowning achievements in a longstanding collaborative folk-country tradition, and no one is gonna touch them soon.

Calexico’s 45 minutes of trumpet-laced Tex-Mex indie desert-rock had leader Joey Burns trying to pump up onlookers via any method possible: band introductions, Love’s “Alone Again Or,” even an operatic Mexican sideman named Salvador Duran helping out with authentic maracas and Spanish interludes. The kids weren’t having it, though. They wanted their bearded savior, the purveyor of all things quiet.

Beam was greeted as if he were the Second Coming. And yes, his unkempt facial hair and, I guess, his spiritualized lyrics do invoke a certain Jesus quality. What was refreshing at Webster Hall, though, wasn’t his appearance, his soft-spoken
whispery delivery, or the chicks yelling, “Take your scarf off!” No, those remain constant. But he’d developed new arrangements for his older songs: “Woman King” was grittier, recited in an almost angry tone; “Naked” sounded soft and sweet as ever, but Rob Burger (of the defunct Tin Hat Trio) threw in some klezmer-ready accordion.

When time came for Calexi-wine to form, Beam loosened up, forgot about the idiot hecklers, and instead fed off of Burns’s endearing enthusiasm in providing rhythm guitar and backup vocals. On the EP they released this past fall, Burns’s vocals tend toward the nonexistent, but tonight was different —although never really a “take charge” guy, he sure took charge here, most notably for the sleepy pedal-steel ballad “Prison on Route 41.” Covers lined the set, with Beam expertly taking the lead on both “All Tomorrow’s Parties” and “Ain’t No Sunshine.” Such collabs run the risk of feeling forced (anyone remember Amsterjam?) but this pair’s humility is what sells them.

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We Got A Lot

Pick Hits

CAETANO VELOSO

A Foreign Sound

Nonesuch

The model isn’t Rod Stewart except insofar as “Maggie May” would fit on a U.K.-themed follow-up. It’s the Willie Nelson of Stardust—songwriting adept as stealth interpreter. Where the Music Row grad reduced verse-chorus-verse chestnuts to chorus-chorus singalongs, the tropicalia intellectual deconstructs American composition. Jaques Morelenbaum is a salty Nelson Riddle, many arrangements highlight rhythm, and some are surprisingly stark. Tackled are two Porters, two Gershwins, two Berlins, two Rodgers, six other standards, and eight rock-era songs of dumbfounding variety. Dylan, Cobain, Byrne, and Wonder we’re ready for. Maybe “Love Me Tender.” But Paul Anka’s “Diana”? Morris Albert’s “Feelings”? Plus all 1:30 of DNA’s disruptive “Detached,” with Arto Lindsay’s flailings arranged for symphony orchestra? Flops include Wonder’s oddly tuneless “If It’s Magic” and the irreparable “Feelings”—only it turns out Albert was from Brazil, and anyway, “Feelings” is followed hard on by an a cappella reading of Cole Porter’s “Love for Sale” that indicts all romantic pop except Porter’s “So in Love.” A MINUS

COURTNEY LOVE

America’s Sweetheart

Virgin

Her celebrity on steroids and her voice in shreds, a drug-abusing unfit mother charms, fucks, or buffalos her way into some old-fashioned major-label money, commits commercial compromise on demand, and delivers an album as invigorating in its contempt for rock professionalism as Neil Young’s Tonight’s the Night. If the little girls barely know who she is, good—a lifestyle irresponsibly seductive in a powerful person like Keith Richards is only pitiably misguided in this has-been waiting to happen. But she’s right about one thing. The world does owe her a living. A MINUS


CEE-LO

Cee-Lo Green . . . Is the Soul Machine Arista

The intro, where he refuses to start until he’s done chuckling over the failure of his baby boy to pronounce “soul machine,” sums up a guy neither as humble nor as special as he thinks. Half God’s gift to hip-hop, half man of the people, he never quite puts all his good tracks together or across. These include trademarked Timbaland and Ludacris collabs, love song and friend song and antigangsta rave, the one at the beginning where he wishes he “could write one song to right all wrongs” (which who wouldn’t?) and the one at the end where he swears he’ll “die trying” to do just that (which he won’t). B PLUS


VAN HUNT

Capitol

I love it when we make mistakes/Because once again it gives me a reason to complain,” this not very Southern-fried ATL r&b singer-songwriter-guitarist begins one song. After all, he’s no love man: “Words without hate/Would leave me nothing left to say.” In short, although Hunt’s heaven-and-hell split may give his falsetto a devilish cast, it isn’t just a fancy excuse for dogging around. It helps him think. In “Seconds of Pleasure,” for instance, he finds a dozen meanings of life without mentioning sex once—even if an orgasm gave him the idea. B PLUS


NILS PETTER MOLVAER

NP3

Universal import

More trumpet electronica from Norway, cold as solid ether, but organic unto spring like frost rather than air-conditioned unto laryngitis like a mainframe room. It’s cool like itself rather than cool like Miles—true chill-out music. Now he should tell us just what sea the guys on the cover are entering with no clothes on, and when. A MINUS


PARTY OF ONE

Caught the Blast

Fat Cat import

Three Minneapolis malcontents despair messily and catchily about the Balkans, the Holocaust, crime for crime’s sake, and everything else that robbed them of their youth. Their guitar-bass-drums is punk only by historical association—incompetents or not, they have bigger (OK, looser) ideas about tempo, rhythm, and form. But like so many lo-fi note-missers of enduring social value, they’re winningly enthusiastic about their own negativity. As their Iraqi spokesman puts it: “We got desert and we got sand/We got acres of useless land/We got something that you ain’t got/We got rage and we got a lot.” A MINUS


THE REPUTATION

To Force a Fate

Lookout

Not a nice girl, Elizabeth Elmore. Not a girl at all—very much a woman, a driven one. Unsparing of her own faults, which she describes with acuity and sets to tunes that make them sound normal in an attractive way. If she betrays an artistic flaw as her second band grows, it’s that her accomplished singing doesn’t quite deliver her excellent lyrics. Maybe deep down she wants to reveal herself yet not reveal herself. In any case, love is a problem, and she’s no longer claiming it’s the guy’s fault—except for the one who hits her (she got that right) and a boyfriend’s buddy who won’t come through on his come-on (she got that wrong and half knows it). A true rock miniaturist, loyal to her friends and in need of a week’s sleep. A MINUS

[


THE ROUGH GUIDE TO THE MUSIC OF MOROCCO

World Music Network import

Sequenced with the series’ usual disdain for consistency, it sticks an interpreter of the lost poetry of al-Andalus after a wild traditional chant, Casablanca rappers who scream “Donnez moi les papiers!” after an exiled cantor who applies his countertenor to a suppressed Sephardic melody. Yet throughout a multiplicity of related styles, tunes are similarly minimal and textures share a spareness—only when New Yorker Hassan Hakmoun comes on do the sonics cream up a little. And even with time out for a few recitations, it never jumps the track of its Berber-plus-Gnawa drive. A MINUS


THELONIOUS MONSTER

California Clam Chowder

Lakeshore

Not as peaky as beautiful fuckup Bob Forrest’s Bicycle Thief comeback five years ago. If the brief “The Germs Song” is ugly and chaotic and the briefer “The Beck Song” disses the post-folkie and his haircut, titles like “The Bob Dylan Song” and “The Iggy Stooge Song” are less evocative than implied. As for “The Elton John Song”—well, Elton should cover it, because Forrest needs the money. Throughout this out-of-nowhere record, he and his relaxed band ride an emotional openness and tuneful ease that some pop schemer should convert into accounts receivable. Forrest is glad to be alive because staying that way has been kind of hard. The loveliest of his many lovely moments reaches out in near-tears solidarity to a sad, sexy, solitary salesclerk who wasn’t so lucky. Why it’s called “The Big Star Song” I don’t know or care. A MINUS


Dud of the Month

DAVID BYRNE

Grown Backwards

Nonesuch

The two opera selections signify one thing, and it’s not that those voice lessons have finally paid off. It’s that more even than Randy Newman or Tom Waits (or Sting), this likable Manhattan progressive conceives himself as a performer of artsongs. As a writer of same he has his moments. Somebody somewhere could do justice to the absurdly abject “Glad” or the smarmily rationalized “Empire” or “She Only Sleeps,” the love tribute of a sex worker’s boyfriend. Byrne cannot. His voice devoid of Newman-Waits grit, his eclecticism even and controlled where theirs bristles with jokes, oddity, and gusto, how does he expect to connect with anyone but other likable progressives, and rather detached and inscrutable ones at that? The guy’s been championing the ordinary since More Songs About Buildings and Food. But he makes such a point of approaching it from the outside you have to wonder whether as far as he’s concerned that isn’t just more exoticism, which for him is the only thing that comes naturally. C PLUS



Additional Consumer News

Honorable Mention

THE ROUGH GUIDE TO AFRICAN RAP

(World Music

Circuit import)

There are beats and then there are beats, and these are most exciting at their most recent and most American (Kala-mashaka, “Ni Wakati”; Pee Froiss, “Djalgaty”).

BUTCHIES

Make Yr Life

(Yep Roc)

They love pussy and all it implies (“Send Me You,” “Make Yr Life”).

ANDY BEY

American Song

(Savoy Jazz)

Billy Eckstine masterminds an all-star combo and nobody shows off, especially Billy (“Speak Low,” “Satin Doll”).

LOU REED

Animal Serenade

(Sire/Reprise)

A career’s worth of demotic artsong bedecked with occasional guitar-piano and a whole lotta Antony falsetto (“Smalltown,” “Street Hassle”)

LOCAL H

Whatever Happened to P.J. Soles?

(Studio E)

Formerly high on triumph, now determined to prevail (“Everyone Alive,” “California Songs”)

BLONDIE

The Curse of Blondie

(Sanctuary)

Believes in reincarnation, wishes the pope had a bigger dick (“Shakedown,” “End to End”)

ROSWELL RUDD’S

MALICOOL WITH

TOUMANI DIABATE

(Soundscape)

Trombone learns Sahel (“Bamako,” “Johanna”).

CALEXICO

Convict Pool

(Quarterstick)

Songs by Love and the Minutemen, atmospheres by the band (“Corona,” “Alone Again Or”)

CALEXICO

Feast of Wire

(Quarterstick)

Latin Playboys as conceived by an Anglo—too artistic, genuinely literary, lyrical enough to haunt you some (“Sunken Waltz,” “Black Heart”)

THE HOLD STEADY

Almost Killed Me

(Frenchkiss)

Craig Finn lifts and pulls more cruddy details from his intimacy with crystal meth and his consuming desire to rhyme Nina Simone with Neil Schon (“Killer Parties,” “Sweet Payne”).

CARINA ROUND

The Disconnection

(Interscope)

The Kate Bush of PJ Harvey (“Into My Blood,” “Lacuna”)

ANTHONY

HAMILTON

Comin’ From Where I’m From

(Arista)

The devil is in the details—also the angel (“Lucille,” “Charlene”).

BOTNLEDJA

Iceland National Park

(Trust Me import)

Naked islanders sing their savage songs (“I’ll Make You Come,” “Broko”).


[

Choice Cuts

HENRY BUTLER

“Henry’s Boogie,” “Jump” to the Rhythm”

Homeland

(Basin Street)

IGGY POP

“Little Electric Chair”

Skull Ring

(Virgin)

T.I.

“Be Better Than Me”

Trap Muzik

(Grand Hustle/ Atlantic)

MARY MCBRIDE

“Big Old Oak Table”

Everything Seemed Alright

(Bogan)

THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS

“Au Contraire”

Indestructible Object (Barsuk)

VORTIS

“God Won’t Bless America Again,” “Fight the War Again”

God Won’t Bless America

(Thick)


Duds

COMPILASIAN: THE WORLD OF INDIPOP

(Narada World)

FLAMING LIPS

Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell

(Warner Bros.)

THE FLATLANDERS

Wheel of Fortune

(New West)

G UNIT

Beg for Mercy

(G Unit/Interscope)

JOSH KLEIN

Everyone Loves a Winner

(One Little Indian)

LEAVES

Breathe

(DreamWorks)

PHILLIPS & DRIVER

Together

(Bar/None)

DAMIEN RICE

O

(Vector)

SMASH MOUTH

Get the Picture?

(Interscope)

SUPER FURRY ANIMALS

Phantom Power

(XL/Beggars)

WAYNE WONDER

No Holding Back

(VP/Atlantic)

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CULTURE ARCHIVES MUSIC ARCHIVES

Tell Them Apart

If you’re the sensitive type, you might sometimes send a little psychic sympathy to cousinly Doggs Snoop and Nate, since clumsy grandmothers confuse the two. But learn to prioritize, dog! Califone and Calexico, open-eared indie-rock outfits most people’ve never heard of, have it way worse: They’re socioculturally aligned, similarly roots-rooted, and in possession of loads of the same friends, which in this economy translates to a perpetual mix-up unabated by RealAudio sound snippets or any virulent Chicago/Tucson beef with which I’m familiar. Oh, and they’ve got nearly identical names.

At least Califone have a back story to hang onto. They used to be Red Red Meat, Sub Pop’s black-sheep blues-rock deconstructionists and one-time Smashing Pumpkins openers whose 1997 swan song, There’s a Star Above the Manger Tonight, sounds like Tricky tricking the Band into aping A Band of Bees with a wheeze. When no one understood the album, the Meat men burrowed into various side and solo projects, only to pretty much reassemble in ’98 under frontman Tim Rutili’s aegis to make an EP as Califone. Five years (and several releases) later, the bewitching Quicksand/Cradlesnakes demonstrates how productive burrowing can be: It’s a colossal headcase full of passive-aggressive songwriting, cigarette-butt vocalizing, and cloistered-ass studio craft that wilds out without Wilco’s financial wherewithal but with the conviction that trying equals doing.

And these guys’ll try anything: beery piano-bar rumination, defanged Zoso clang, the tidier instrumental noodling of fellow Chicagoans Tortoise and Isotope 217, whatever. That’s how Rutili (who apparently drafts new bandmates whenever he needs someone who can play the slit gong or the duct-tape coin piano) writes, too: “Silver harm sugar hands drunken hive/Amputated years are growing back a new shade,” he explains helpfully in “Horoscopic.Amputation.Honey,” a casually resplendent slow jam that really does sound likes a back-porch laptop hoedown. The spirited collaging tempts me to think of Califone as post-rock’s Latin Playboys. Yet there’s a weird interiority—maybe a weird Midwestern interiority—to Quicksand that I don’t hear in the Playboys’ fractured refraction of Los Angeles ramble-on. For all their sonic inhalation, these songs don’t invite you in at all; they just tower dolefully, like those two sentries securing the cover of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.

In contrast, multi-instrumentalists Joey Burns and John Convertino, who formed Calexico in L.A. a decade ago after serving as peyote pontiff Howe Gelb’s rhythm section, emphasize the vitality of community. When the band played Joe’s Pub last November they brought along an honest-to-goodness mariachi group, and over coffee in his publicist’s office the next morning Burns, entirely unfazed that I’d never been to Tucson, hooked me up with a pamphlet from a local bookstore whose cultural programming allegedly kicks serious plateau ass.

I should specify that I’ve never been to Tucson physically, because Feast of Wire, like all of the group’s records, is a lovingly wired feast of local flavor that might as well be a postcard. Like Califone, Calexico pack it all in: hot border-town swing, sweet acoustic-guitar shuffle, sunbaked jazz twinkle, ham radio crackle, roiling thunderstorm strings, spaghetti western tremolo, tacky cactus cancan. But where Califone use that stylistic breadth as a sort of buffer—a way to form a world inside a world—Calexico just want to get down what they see around them; Feast is a remarkably gracious bit of cultural exchange. “Those who have stayed keep a flame in memory of the fallen,” Burns sings in “Woven Birds,” a finespun waltz about the death and rebirth of a village plaza, “and pass on the old rites despite the risk.” Yes, he is trying to break your heart.

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Music

Back to His Roots

Howe Gelb is one of those guys you assume must have been an original punk, because he’s unsettling to behold when not styled punk at all (Zappa-ish hair-mustache-goatee with decidedly unindie silver necklace), and because when he shambles into the set of shambles that time has proven to be his own, uninterested in alternative categories, the crowd skitters out of the room. Since the last Giant Sand studio album, Glum, in 1994, Gelb lived the death of his tumor-stricken collaborator Rainer Ptacek, recording part of his 1998 solo album Hisser from Ptacek’s hospital room. His comeback was to have begun last fall, but V2 at the last minute declined to release Chore of Enchantment, which will now come out in March on Thrill Jockey.

But Gelb isn’t totally alone: Drummer John Convertino and bassist Joey Burns have played with him for years, and when Gelb dropped out they formed Calexico, enlisting guitarist Nick Luca. As Gelb got moving at the Bowery Ballroom last Thursday, starting at a double-keyboard setup, switching to acoustic guitar and some electric, triggering at near-random intervals DAT tapes of opera, Mexican folk music, and Kansas City boogie-woogie piano, wandering through vocals on microphones that kept distorting, the three weren’t fazed. When Gelb said he’d just been to Sammy’s Roumanian Steak House (he identified with the comedian there from the dawn of shtick who tells awful jokes and plays worse keyboard) and launched into a gypsy reel, they were right behind him. They know his sound.

And it’s a real sound, as distinct as harmolodics or Beefheart, if less trailblazing. Gelb and Luca fast-picked some country at one point. This is roots music that accepts that roots is anything you feel like listening to, given a western sense of space and a hippie-punk sense of slack. Gelb rocks out less often, but his pacing and textures have never been more musical, and Chore of Enchantment, recorded with PJ Harvey’s John Parish and Memphis auteur Jim Dickinson, might be his best-sounding record. Does it have the strongest set of songs, you wonder. Hey, haven’t you been paying attention? —Eric Weisbard


Khan Do

Sporting hair the color of black cherries and a gauzy, floor-length black outfit that Queen Guinevere might have worn had she been a rock star, Chaka Khan confided to those assembled at the Blue Note last Tuesday that the very next day would see her in the studio cutting tracks for her new jazz album. Since for many of her fans each of Chaka’s albums is beyond category, it was interesting to hear her nail herself to a genre. But everything about this gig suggested Khan’s need to make a point about her career-long flirtation with jazz standards and jazz technique, which no amount of protean improvisation over funk, rock, or disco beats could provide. Oozing charisma and good cheer, Khan fronted a well-drilled quartet on keyboards, bass, drums, and cornet. The instrumental textures were intentionally heavy on fusion-era atmospherics, but the vocals were all bebop sass delivered with a subtle sense of Broadway drama.

Versions of “Them There Eyes” and “I Loves You Porgy” were given confident, imaginative readings. Her sly and triumphant performance of “I’ll Be Around” turned the song’s implicit resignation into wicked glee. She sang “Reconsider,” cowritten with Prince for her recent funk album, with a mean scat break. She recapped her soft-focus rendition of “My Funny Valentine” from Waiting to Exhale, and did a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Man From Mars” that underscored similarities between Mitchell’s unorthodox phrasing and her own. It was an all-too-brief set (a mere eight songs and opening instrumental), but a graceful career transition nonetheless. With both her daughter and Mary J. Blige in the audience that night, Khan was singing both to and for her legacy as the standard all the boldest, hippest, would-be divas have to beat. —Carol Cooper


Getting in Tone

Even while spending the last 30 years studying North Indian music, Terry Riley has never excluded the influence of ragtime and barrelhouse piano, which he once played in bars to earn college tuition money; the power, speed, and touch in this bearish 64-year-old’s left hand bring to mind John McEnroe, if only because Riley’s vagabond piano playing leaves you searching beyond music for comparisons.

In a program at the Merkin Concert Hall on Friday night, Terry Riley and the All Stars performed together only once. Though the ensemble switched formats (solo, duet, quartet) as often as they did modes (composed, improvised, or a combination), Riley’s imprint was prominent, even when he was offstage. He writes wandering sojourns that merge Western and Eastern styles; paradoxically, his music has a kind of restless restfulness. He plays piano with a glassy tone that’s pretty but not simplistic, and—in marked departure from the episodic pulses of “In C,” his 1964 landmark, arguably minimalism’s first meme—he amiably shifts form every few seconds, from witty, repeated chords to silence to fleet, trebly runs.

His group, on violin, saxophone, contrabass, and guitar, answer with subtle inflections, exploring the galaxy of tone. On “Diamond Fiddle Language,” the one quintet piece, Stefano Scodanibbio began by tapping his bow rhythmically on his contrabass, setting a swaying pulse that anchored the music. Riley sang in the Indian raga style of droning microtones, and after the others improvised delicate responses that goaded or delayed the sensuality, Scodanibbio capped the piece by attaching percussive shakers to his strings and gently plucking them. To these rock ears, the remarkable effect was like hearing Astral Weeks being rehearsed by a Bombay chamber orchestra. (Aside: With all five musicians performing, the stage was aglow with braided hair, pastel shirts, vivid vests, and Kenny G curls. Can’t the NEA fund a study to determine why new-musicians dress so badly?)

Riley’s baby-faced son Gyan played about 20 minutes of guitar music written by his dad, virtuosic displays in the classical-guitar tradition, with deft zigzags and finger-picked harmonies, like flamenco played with Buddhist pliability instead of Mediterranean bravura. In “Missigono,” Terry Riley applied his homely voice to mirthful verse that would’ve pleased Allen Ginsberg. “four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten/Judeo-Christianity, Muhammad, Zen,” Riley sang, obviously savoring the tone koan. —Rob Tannenbaum