Friday, January 28, 2011

Make a Smile for Me

Since I just reviewed the Bill Withers documentary Still Bill,
here are a few of my favorite Withers covers. And if you can't get
enough, the Docurama DVD includes The Swell Season (Glen Han-
sard and Markéta Irglová) with "Stories," Corey Glover (Living
Colour) with "Who Is He and What Is He to You" and Yim Yam-
es (Jim James/My Morning Jacket) with "Ain't No Sunshine."

Of the three, I prefer the latter as James takes the most under-
stated approach to the material (overstatement seems gauche).
The extras also offer brief chats with Withers associates like ac-
tor/football great Jim Brown and Graham Nash (Hollies, CSNY).

Corey Glover's heartfelt, if overstated cover can't quite compare.

Sly Dunbar, Robbie Shakespeare, and the inimitable Ms. Jones.

Holly Golightly adds reverb and twang to this Withers classic.

Diana's disco extravaganza trumps the Bonnie Prince Billy version.

Update: Still Bill will have its US broadcast premiere this Fri, 2/4,
at 8:30PM on Showtime. For more information, please click here.

Click here for part two

Image from (AP Photo/Reed Saxon). Click
here for my review of +'Justments (which includes "The Same
Love That Made Me Laugh"), here for Just As I Am/Still Bill, here
for Soul Power, and here for Golightly's God Don't Like It (which
includes "Use Me"). I'll be posting my DVD review next month.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Everywhere You Go: Black Cats II

Click here
for part one

As I finally got caught up with Kaneto Shindo's Kuroneko
yesterday (at SIFF Cinema through Thurs., 1/27), this seem-
ed like a good time to recognize more black cats. Instead of
videos, here are the photos and panels that caught my eye.

Black cats
are a stylist's best friend (white will do in a
Socks doesn't wake up for less than $10,000 a day.

Felix is a foot fetishist.

Mark Twain was a feline fancier and the web offers several pictures
of the author with tabby kittens (one of whom looks a little irritated).
His daughter, Jean, used her Brownie to capture this fine fellow.

Everyone knows about Catwoman (soon to be played by Anne Hathaway), but fewer are likely to know about Felicia Hardy, AKA The Black Cat, who appears to share a little DNA with Socks above.

Even Wonder Woman finds them intimidating (actually, this superheroine is her similarly-garbed lookalike, Phantom Lady).

One of the best things ever. Better even than this Béla Tarr t-shirt.

Click here for "The Quintessential Black Cat."
Images from The Cat Network, VisualizeUs, We Shall March,, postmodernbarney ("The Mystery of the Black
Cat"), and Boing Boing ("Cat Flag" created by Art Yucko).

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Inner and
Outer Space

Irmin Schmidt
and the Inner
Space, Kama-
sutra: Vollen-
dung der Lieb
Crippled Dick
Hot Wax

When it comes to Can, I'm not a completist, though they're one of my very favorite bands (frankly, I don't have the storage space or the disposable income to collect everything by most any artist).

I prefer their early material--when vocalists Malcolm Mooney
and Damo Suzuki were part of the line-up--to their later work.

And by early material, I'm including the recordings composer-
keyboard player Irmin Schmidt made as Inner Space, the
name of their Cologne studio, before he co-founded Can.
According to his Wikipedia entry, Schmidt "has written the
music to more than 40 films and television programs."

For this release, his collaborators include drummer Jaki Liebe-
zeit, guitarist Michael Karoli, and Mooney ("There Was a Man").

The AMG speculates that Holger Czukay and David C. Johnson
handled bass and flute, respectively (the latter made his exit in
1969). Therefore, it's a Can record in all but name. The group
would follow it up with their unofficial '68 debut, Can...Delay.

Like Inner Space's Agilok and Blubbo, which finally saw release
in 2009, Kamasutra serves as the score for a German film of
the same name. Can would continue to contribute to many mo-
tion pictures throughout their career, as exemplified by 1970's
Soundtracks, which features the lilting "She Brings
the Rain"
and majestic "Mother Sky," their crowning achieve-
ment (it receives pride of place in '71's wrenching Deep End).

From descriptions of the film, Kamasutra doesn't sound like
anything special, but the score is another matter. Other than
"Man" and "I'm Hiding My Nightingale," it's an instrumental af-
fair combining elements of jazz, psychedelia, folk, and African
polyrhythms into a concoction that should be familiar--if
not downright exhilarating--to Can's fervent followers.

To my mind, Can is the German equivalent of Traffic, while Traf-
fic is the UK equivalent of Can (bassist Rosko Gee and percus-
sionist Reebop Kwaku Baah played with both). That's particular-
ly apparent here since Johnson's woodwind work saturates the
entire enterprise. I also like the way it feels as if Liebezeit is
pounding his kit somewhere within the recesses of your skull.
I can't quite explain the effect, but it's eerie and hypnotic.

Mostly, I can't believe that it took over 40 years for this LP
to see the light if day. Suffice to say: it was worth the wait.

Cage the Elephant, Thank You Happy Birthday, Jive/Sony

On their second record, Kentucky's Cage the Elephant pro-
duce the kind of clean modern rock we used to play on KNDD.
Matthew Schultz's wavery pipes provide the most distinguish-
ing feature, especially on "Indy Kidz" and "Sell Yourself," where
he explodes in blood-curdling screams. (While listening to the
CD, I found out that Cage records an Endsession on Sunday.)

Jaden Carlson, Tell Me What You See, self-released [2/22/11]

Nine-year-old Colorado kid Jaden Carlson makes music aimed
more at adults (like her band mates) than the kiddie set. Her soph-
omore disc offers down-home rock hampered by the unexception-
al vocals of a child with a severely limited range. With experience,
this Michael Franti protegé may become a better singer--she's al-
ready a good guitarist--but for now, the instrumentals form the
set's highlights. Otherwise: this feels like a vanity project.

Endnote: For more information about Cage the Elephant,
please click here; and for Jaden Carlson, here. Image of Ir-
min Schmidt from Wikipedia (photograph by Heinrich Klaffs).

Saturday, January 15, 2011

A Diverse
Array of


Berlin-born, Bristol-based journalist Anika joins Portishead's
Geoff Barrow (and Beak>) for this triumphant debut. Though
they constructed it quickly, Anika recaptures the post-punk
era at its best while sounding simultaneously of-the-moment.

It doesn't hurt that the songs come on like future classics, but
it's Anika's deadpan, Teutonic-inflected vocals and the hypnotic
instrumental backing that make this LP such a standout. Im-
agine Dennis Bovell producing Nico or Neneh Cherry fronting
Public Image Limited, and you've got the gist. The disc manag-
es to be sophisticated yet spirited, mature yet adventurous.

Click here for Anika's version.

Granted, six of the nine tracks are covers, not counting the dub
version of Bob Dylan's "Masters of War," which wraps up the set in
fine style, but Anika never feels like a greatest hits collection or a
schizophrenic grab bag. Others include "Yang Yang" (Yoko Ono),
"End of the World" (written by Arthur Kent and Sylvia Dee,
recorded by Skeeter Davis), and "I Go to Sleep" (the Kinks).

In Dave Segal's interview with the singer for The Stranger, he
writes, "She also puts a minimalistically quirky spin on Twink-
le's 'Terry' [and] Greta Ann's 'Sadness Hides the Sun'." (Until I
read his piece, I didn't realize those songs were also covers.)

During the Gulf War, Mark Arm issued a version of "Masters"
through the Sub Pop Singles Club, but Anika's bass-heavy ren-
dition drives the lyrics home in an entirely different way. She al-
so adds commentary from an Iraq War vet, which shouldn't work,
but does. As he puts it, "I've been told we were fighting terrorists.
The real terrorist is me, and the real terror is this occupation."

Click here for Anika's version.

I've got to give it up for an artist who would even think to assem-
ble such a diverse array of material, let alone to do it justice. This
is a surprisingly cohesive enterprise with no off-key moments. Ev-
er since I picked up the CD, I haven't been able to stop playing it.

I'm sure Anika's voice won't be to all tastes, but it works so well
with the music that I don't see how anyone could find it too irri-
tating, even listeners who prefer more conventional vocalists.

Click here for the Kinks original.

Then again, I tend to gravitate towards singers who make up
in style or originality what they lack in range or finesse, like
Broadcast's Trish Keenan (who passed away yesterday).

Anika isn't as quirky as fellow German immigrant Arianna For-
ster, AKA the late Ari Up, but I'd like to think that she'll also
appeal to fans of the Slits, the New Age Steppers, Pigbag, and
Rip Rig + Panic. And that's about the highest praise I can give.

Update: Anika plays the Crocodile Cafe on Sunday, 10/16/11.

Mike Gibbons, Marigolds: The Bang-
kok Sessions, self-released

Recorded in Bangkok, Marigolds offers baroque folk-pop from a heart-on-his-sleeve Bay Area troubadour who recalls Cat Stevens. His third LP features 11 originals plus "Talkin' Bout a Revolution."

Whitney Nichole, 100 Strong, Clay Spoon Music [3/8/11]

This San Francisco chanteuse piles glissando on top of
glissando in service of polished country-pop in which
orchestral flourishes mingle with a cappella interlud-
es. Like Faith Hill singing the Beyoncé songbook.

Tiny Animals, Our Own Time, North Street Records [4/5/11]

Emo-style vocals and tight harmonies dominate the second
effort from New York trio Chris, Rita, and Anton. Not bad,
but I prefer 2009's Sweet Sweetness (click for review).

Endnote: For more information about Mike Gibbons,
please click here; for Whitney Nichole, here; and for
Tiny Animals
, here. Anika image from The Quietus.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

DVD of
the Month:
Part 24

I recently
the follow-
ing DVD
for Video Librarian, and thought the results were worth sharing.


Heaven for Electric Light Orchestra fans, this release pres-
ents the band on stage between 1973 and 1976. In the first per-
formance, the group plays at the UK’s Brunel University. There's
nothing fancy about the low-ceiling stage set-up, but certain ec-
centricities are already in place, like the towering platform heels,
singer/guitarist Jeff Lynne's halo of hair, violinist Mik Kaminsky's
vampire cape, and the way Hugh McDowell play his cello like a
guitar for the cover of Jerry Lee Lewis's "Great Balls of Fire."

The songs are also longer than the Top 40 singles for which ELO
would become famous, but Lynne had a feel for appealing melo-
dies from the start (time spent with the Move can't have hurt). In
the liner notes, Malcolm Dome describes their music as prog pop.

For Hamburg's 1974 Rockpalast broadcast, the septet has a bigger
stage on which to roam, while the disc concludes with a set at Lon-
don's New Victoria Theater during 1976's Face the Music tour. The
band still eschews bells and whistles, but the venue is larger yet.

Throughout, they perform the hits "Ma-Ma-Ma Bell," "Showdown,"
"I Can't Get It out of My Head," "Strange Magic," and "Evil Woman."
Though Brunel and Rockpalast duplicate three songs, including
Edvard Grieg's monumental "In the Hall of the Mountain King,"
they serve as better showcases for Lynne as he shouts more at
the '76 gig (his tenor works better in a traditional pop context).

The bonus feature offers a brief interview with the outfit, along
with sound engineer Rick Pannell. Also, completists should note
that the UK version adds two versions of Chuck Berry's "Roll o-
ver Beethoven." Audio options include Dolby Digital Stereo,
Dolby Digital 5.1, and DTS Surround Sound. Recommended.

Click here for Movie of the Month, Part 23: Everyone Else

Endnote: I usually call this feature Movie of the Month, but
DVD of the Month made more sense this time around. Slightly
revised from the original text. Image from The Quietus ("Look-
ing Back at the Cosmic Career of the Electric Light Orchestra").

Saturday, January 01, 2011

January Reviews

These are
the reviews
and other
pieces I'm
working on
this month.

Amazon DVDs:
Guillermo del Toro's Cronos - The Crite-
rion Collection
, David Cronenberg's Videodrome - The Crite-
rion Collection
(special features only), Boy Meets World -
The Complete Fourth Season
[three-disc set], Boardwalk
Empire - Season 1
[six-disc set], Masterpiece Classic -
Downton Abbey
[three-disc set], and Raging Bull -
Two-Disc 30th Anniversary Blu-ray/DVD Combo

Amazon Theatricals: Country Strong (with Gwyn-
eth Paltrow, Garrett Hedlund, and Leighton Meester).

Still playing (or yet to open): Blue Valentine, The Company
, The Fighter, How Do You Know, The King's Speech, Love
and Other Drugs
, Never Let Me Go, Somewhere, and The Town.

Siffblog: Jazz musical Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench.

Video Librarian: The Red Chapel, Two in the Wave, The Legacy
of Roscoe Holcomb
, The Mean World Syndrome - Media Violence
& the Cultivation of Fear
, Top Secret Rosies - The Female Compu-
ters of WWII
, 18 Voices Sing Kol Nidre, Competitors - Russia's
Child Prodigies
, The Middle of Everywhere - The Abortion Debate
from America's Heartland
, The Price of Pleasure - Pornography,
Sexuality and Relationships
, Dangerous Intimacy - The Untold
Story of Mark Twain's Final Year
, Inside Job, Waiting for Su-
, An Evening with Tito Puente and Della Reese
, Pic-
ture Me - A Model's Diary
, Hideaway, Hot in Cleveland -
Season 1
[two-disc set], Gabriel Iglesias - I'm Not
Fat...I'm Fluf
fy, Still Bill, and The Narnia Code.

Endnote: Image from The Criterion Collection.