Thursday, September 28, 2006
ALTON ELLIS WITH HORTENSE ELLIS | I’m Still In Love With You | Studio One
Alton Ellis was truly the “steady” voice of rock steady music, a capable journeyman without the pipes of a Dennis Brown or Gregory Isaacs (admittedly, he was before their time), the author of more than a few better than average tracks. Plus, the sure hand of Clement Dodd at the controls meant quality sound in an era of much muddiness. But he (and his late sister Hortense) will always be known for the remarkable title track of this collection—not only is it one of blue-beat’s true standards, it has also been a recent hit as a dancehall-ed up cover for reggae’s reigning superstar, Sean Paul.
While it’s hard to hear this venerable chestnut without hearing echoes of the super spiffy remake, it does lead off a sweet assembly of the gently shuffling, New Orleans gone upside down, pre-reggae. Oddly enough, the best track “Breakfast in Bed” has latter-day overdubs of organ from Jackie Mittoo; second after that is the standard “Can’t Get Used to Losing You” (surely familiar to latter-day ska fans via the English Beat).
Yes, it is a sure thing that the Sean Paul cover was the impetus for this reissue, but why complain? Sterile or obtuse it isn’t, and while “lively” doesn’t describe these many songs of pain, they aren’t painful. This is more good stuff from Heartbeat/Studio One, who hasn’t screwed up yet. —Johnny Angel
THE AVETT BROTHERS | The Gleam EP | Ramseur
As witnessed by a full crowd at Monterey Live last month, the North Carolina group The Avett Brothers has a repertoire of original numbers that range from tear-jerking ballads to numbers that have all the intensity of a punk band gone acoustic. On their latest release, The Gleam, the prolific band embraces its softer side with half a dozen numbers.
The Gleam starts with the Uncle Tupelo-ish ballad “Sanguine” before heading into the lighter number “When I Drink,” which features lyrics about the intoxicated narrator having “fist fights with the air.” Though every song on this strong EP rank amongst the band’s best, “Backwards With Time” and “If It’s the Beaches” are particularly impressive numbers. The former is a deceptively sunny sounding campfire song on acoustic guitar and harmonica with lyrics questioning whether one truly becomes wiser with age. The latter is a majestic ballad that slowly builds aided by swelling violin and dramatic piano. —Stuart Thornton
TORTOISE | A Lazarus Taxon | Thrill Jockey
A Lazarus Taxon rounds up Tortoise’s most obscure offerings, remixes and unreleased material. These are gems that only dedicated fans with lots of time and resources could track down and covet, including the much-sought-after Rhythms, Resolutions & Clusters LP.
Until this three-disc CD/DVD box came along, much of the band’s material was lost. Even the name A Lazarus Taxon is a paleontological term referring to species that disappear and reappear from extinction, previously found only in fossil records.
At full stride, Tortoise wandered dangerously close to the sounds of elevator music. “Madison Area” and “TNT Takemura Remix” rekindle that breeziness. But the clicks, drones, glitches and rhythms found in “Blackbird” recall the funky and experimental meandering that gave Tortoise appeal in the first place.
The box comes packaged in a series of stark black-and-white photos by retired Swedish police car accident scene photographer Arnold Odermatt. Odermatt shot his assignments in various states of cleanup, metaphorically summing up these alternate takes on some of Tortoise’s greatest works. There’s beauty in the wreckage that’s visible only in the debris of these happy accidents. —Chad Radford