Thursday, June 29, 2006
BRIGHTBLACK MORNING LIGHT | Brightblack Morning Light | Matador
Before he performed at Big Sur’s Fernwood this past January, I interviewed Nabob Shineywater, Brightblack Morning Light’s cannabis-fueled leader, about his band’s debut for indie rock label Matador Records. At the time, he said that the release would combine different rural music forms from around the world.
Despite Shineywater’s pronouncement, Bright Black Morning Light sounds downright urban compared to the band’s debut, ala.cali.tucky. While the past release featured the twang of acoustic guitar and slide guitar, their Matador debut emphasizes the glacial cool of bandmember Rabinyah Hughes’ Rhodes keyboard and the molasses funk groove of Shineywater’s electric guitar playing.
The album has two high points. One is the 10-and-a-half-minute “Star Blanket River Child,” which turns into a dub reggae sounding number with horns in the final few minutes. Another is “Black Feather Wishes Rise,” a tune that chugs along with a pair of gospel singers.
This is not the sort of music that will prime you for a Saturday evening outing, but if given a chance, the many pleasures of this hypnotic release will be revealed to you. —Stuart Thornton
FREDDIE MCGREGOR | Bobby Bobylon | Heartbeat/Studio One
More vault combing for reggae classics and this one is a pleasant surprise indeed. Clement Dodd-produced, with lots of singles and extended mixes, including the unstoppable “Rastaman Camp,” what serious fan of the Marley-era old school wouldn’t want this? Unlike the boxed set grab bag that usually characterizes this kind of thing, there really isn’t anything that is an add-on here—so who buys this?
The answer is that it’s probably the same kind of R&B fan that doesn’t recoil or doesn’t mind contributions from over-done session players and superstar guests doing only so-so material. This is a very fine period piece in many ways, but in many others, underscores what we’ve seen for the last five to 10 years, that any and every submarket gets attended to. McGregor was a fine singer (albeit not a Dennis Brown) and the music is as steady as need be. But being unspectacular is why it has remained in the vaults for so long—good but not great meant unreleased until today. For collectors and those above casual interest. —Johnny Angel
WIDESPREAD PANIC | Earth to America | Sanctuary
Earth to America is Widespread Panic’s first studio album in three years, and just the second since founding member and guitarist Michael Houser died of pancreatic cancer in 2002. The opening track, “Second Skin,” acts as a metaphor for a band that has in many ways just been reborn, although it’s been around for 20 years.
New guitarist George McConnell is now fully integrated into the group. And rather than record with longtime producer John Keane at his studio in Athens, the group decided to record in the Bahamas with producer Terry Manning.
The result is a group that still clicks on all cylinders and justifies its status as the elite of the jam bands. The first Widespread Panic I heard was the 1992 reissue of Space Wrangler, and the songs were so strikingly written and performed that it has become the benchmark by which all subsequent albums are measured. Earth to America doesn’t reach those heights, but it still showcases the strengths of Widespread Panic—the warmly gruff vocals of John Bell, and the beautiful guitar work of Bell and McConnell built upon the dynamic rhythm section. “Second Skin” is a moody and evocative 11-minute jam that sets the tone for the rest of the album, one of the band’s best pure songs since “Space Wrangler.” —Scott Freeman