Thursday, June 24, 2004
Stone, Steel & Bright Lights | Transmit Sound
After three solo releases, Jay Farrar is back to prove he can still rock out like nobody’s business, reconfiguring songs from those previous efforts with the inspired support of Canyon, a Washington, D.C.-based quintet that toured with Farrar in the fall of 2003. Stone, Steel & Bright Lights documents these performances, a collection of sometimes-radical reinventions, two new originals, and a pair of covers (Syd Barrett’s “Lucifer Sam” and Neil Young’s “Like a Hurricane”). As if 19 incendiary live tracks weren’t enough, a bonus DVD with footage from a January 2004 gig in San Francisco rounds out the package.
Farrar has never quite rid himself of the hoopla surrounding Uncle Tupelo, the visionary alt-country band he founded in the late ‘80s with Jeff Tweedy, who currently fronts Wilco and bathes in the critical slobber largely denied his more talented but less ingratiating former bandmate.
Stone probably won’t do much to change this fact, but the true believers wouldn’t have it any other way. On one of the new songs, “Six String Belief,” Farrar comes as close as he probably ever will to a manifesto: “The Declaration framer states revolution sets the course straight.../Corruption in the system, a grassroots insurrection will bring them down/Rock & amp; roll around my head, alive and kicking.” Here’s hoping he’s right but, if not, Farrar and his six strings are salvation enough. –RSS
The Best of Lightnin’ Hopkins | Columbia/Legacy
The true soul of Houston, Texas. If that city is all sprawl, chaos, blisterin’ heat and shoot ‘em up/knock ‘em down horror, then this blues legend is and was its apotheosis. If 12-bar blues are some kind of blueprint for the form, ole Lightnin’ built an upside down house. The tempo’s bizarre, the structures free-form; this is story-telling at its finest. If rappers of today call it “free-style,” then Hopkins’ shaggy-dog blues would have to be called “totally free-style.”
While it’s true that he’s been the subject of more collections than you can count, this one does have his most famous tune, “Bald-Headed Woman,” as well as “Freight Train” and other coffeehouse staples. And digital has removed some of the scratch and creak in a good way too. If you have nothing else of the master’s, this is the place to begin. –JA
Hypnotic Underworld | Drag City
It’s interesting to see a non-American take on one of domestic rock ‘n’ roll’s highly specialized branches. So, for the sake of curiosity and collection, compilations of contemporary and vintage Korean doo-wop, Latin American psychedelic music, Swedish punk, and so on have become available in most music stores.
The Japanese, in their emulation of now-nostalgic American musical forms, often seem to be as far off target as anyone else.
With Hypnotic Underworld, Japanese psychedelic band Ghost contributes to this tradition, but being signed to Drag City, won’t likely suffer from the same lack of exposure as their predecessors.
The music waffles between early Pink Floyd and The Mars Volta, sometimes flowing loosely and at other moments progressively orchestrated, but never without a collage of constant background noise like rattles, anonymous grating noises, tin whistles, the rustling of pages and meditative drones.
Ghost is assailed by the same problems as any other reverse-invading force. But whatever they and other Japanese-American throwback musicians lack in cultural discretion, is made up in faith and zeal, ingredients that have been missing from most American music for a long time. –MB