Thursday, August 10, 2006
NEW YORK DOLLS | One Day It Will Please Us To Remember Even This | Roadrunner
The Dolls’ first two discs are among the absolute greatest rock and roll records ever made. Every track on both of those classics explode, the manic intensity of spirit barely contained, the group hardly able to stay on the same beat.
Although the band’s singer and rhythm guitarist remain, not having the original rhythm section plus skittering genius-by-default Johnny Thunders means that the un-swinging lurch that defined them is gone, replaced by two lifer pros doing the beat keeping and a Joe Perry clone playing lead. The result is decidedly unspectacular hard rock, whose saving grace is their erudite and esteemed elder statesman vocalist, David Johansen. He is a miracle—when he is asked to reprise his greatest role as David Doll, the bark and bite return.
The disc’s killer track “Dance Like a Monkey” alludes to polymorphous perversion, the Supreme Court, evolution versus Creationism and quotes Bill Wyman, Slade and echoes their own “Stranded In The Jungle.” In other words, this is heady stuff as well as classic rock that though it lacks the crazy kid stuff of the original lineup. —Johnny Angel
RAMBLIN’ JACK ELLIOTT | I Stand Alone | Anti Records
At 75, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott has covered quite a bit of ground in his time. Fifty years ago, he cut his first album, and he’s been trudging away ever since, opening for the Grateful Dead, winning a Grammy in 1996, and accepting the 1999 National Medal of Arts. With his creaky baritone, eccentric phrasing, and endearingly anachronistic story songs, Elliott remains Woody’s disciple, a living link to the days of boxcar-hopping hobos and moonshine-guzzling rounders. But even though his new album, I Stand Alone, finds him revisiting the tried-and-true tropes of folk music—loyal old dogs, faithless lovers, incarcerated losers—and alluding to long-dead figures such as Jean Harlow and President James Garfield, Elliott still sounds vital.
Backing musicians Nels Cline, D.J. Bonebrake and David Hidalgo augment Elliott’s yeomanly strumming without destroying its bare-bones charm, adding touches of Dobro, bass, and drums in just the right proportions. The electrified warble of Corin Tucker (Sleater-Kinney) and the alley-cat yowl of Lucinda Williams on the duets “Driving Nails in My Coffin” and “Careless Darling” work amazingly well, even though both women have voices that are every bit as distinctive as Elliott’s own. But despite the guests’ collective hipness quotient, the collaborations don’t come off as a cynical PR ploy, one of those mutual back-scratching sessions in which a crusty old codger earns a Spin blurb as his cred-hungry admirers get an authenticity infusion. Instead, the album sounds like a hootenanny: spontaneous, affectionate, and, most important, just plain fun. —Rene Spencer Saller
LIBERTY ELLMAN | Ophiuchus Butterfly | Pi
Like his labelmates Odyssey and the Art Ensemble of Chicago, guitarist/composer Liberty Ellman is an avant-garde artist who never ventures so far outside that he loses sight of the music’s essential soul.
Ellman, who also plays in ZOOID, is at least as good a bandleader and songwriter as he is a sideman. Although he’s certainly capable of playing technically impressive runs, he isn’t an obnoxious hot dog. In fact, on many of the pieces, he steps back and lets his bandmates enjoy the spotlight.
The album’s 10 original tracks, which range from the experimental, almost electronic-oriented “Snow Lips” to the deliciously languid post-bop blues of “Aestivation” are meticulously arranged and developed. At once highly controlled and recklessly inventive, Ophiuchus Butterfly gives the lie to the jazz-is-dead doomsayers while giving the rest of us something to celebrate. —Rene Spencer Saller