Thursday, March 25, 2004
Over the course of his career, multi-instrumentalist Dirk Powell has played the role of musical curator by recording Cajun two-steps, Celtic strathspeys, and the obligatory Appalachian composition, with the notion of recreating rather than reinvigorating.
Time Again doesn’t deviate from that rubric. A bantering banjo enters and exits, with the inexorably propelling rhythm of a train, to allow the warbling vocalist to finish his tale as time permits. And there is plenty of time, time for hollering, field hoots, and white whiskey freedom, augmented by analog field recording hissing, to suck the listener back into antiquated Appalachia. Time to revisit Virginia in 1910, where songs like “Sally Ann” and “Handsome Molly” were stories your eavesdropping parents heard at work and whispered before bed. The music doesn’t take any risks with the traditional format, and could be labeled “boring” as a result. But Time Again’s success is as a retrospective work, not as a contemporary product. Powell reminds us that a younger America once existed, when the nation searched for its artistic self in Walt Whitman’s prose, Mark Twain’s satire, and Appalachia’s clawhammer clomping.
Alan Lomax’s Southern Journey Remixed
Taking its place alongside other releases uniting urban rhythms with forgotten American idioms, the first project from the New Orleans-based DJ duo Tangle Eye use Moby’s “Natural Blues” as the thematic endoskeleton for a full-length release.
With full access to the Alan Lomax archives they re-contextualize, not remix as the title implies, certain recordings reveal their inherent cultural timelessness. Most of the original tracks, from which the samples originated, were vocal performances with only an axe falling on wood as accompaniment, which allows the duo the opportunity to easily immerse these 44-year-old samples in modernity by adding beats, organs and several well-known New Orleans musicians to the mix. The results, like Savoy Jazz’s Bird Up and Blue Note’s US3, are tepid at best. The rock steady buoyancy of “Chantey” or the North Mississippi Allstars-inspired turn on “Heaven” is infectious. On the roots reggae of “Home,” the prison intonations stand upright, proud, as Corey Harris improvises several slide guitar phrases.
But all of this work to what end? Lomax chronicled a specific period, detailing the lugubrious American experience girding these songs. They are austere songs, with a wistful yearning and a sense of biblical salvation. Tangle Eye’s jazz-funk-dub embellishments wash over these cultural intricacies as much as they might want to highlight them.
YESTERDAY’S NEW QUINTET
Stones Throw Records
You might think an album of Stevie Wonder covers is good for setting the mood, but Yesterday’s New Quintet’s instrumental tribute is not the kind of thing that gets chalked up as background music. No, this little collection of Stevie songs is going to stay right in the foreground, thanks to Madlib’s attention-grabbing production.
All the old favorites are here, from “Superstition,” which is transformed into a laid-back groove tune with a lazy bass, to “That Girl,” which gets sent off with a sample from Stevie himself. At 11 tracks, it’s over all too soon, and the whole thing comes to such an abrupt end, you’re left crying for more. But after a couple years of being bootlegged at premium prices (we’re talking in the hundreds here), let’s just thank Stones Throw for giving this thing a proper release, and throwing in some beautiful cover art to top it all off.