Monday, July 31, 2006

August Reviews

Hot August Night

Hot August night
And the leaves hanging down
And the grass on the ground
Smellin' sweet.
--Neil Diamond, "Brother Love's
Traveling Salvation Show" (1972)

Here are the reviews I'm
working on for this month.

Amazon: Full House - The Complete Fourth Season [four-disc
(I also reviewed seasons one and three), Hanna-Barbera's
Magilla Gorilla - The Complete Series
[four-disc set], My Name
Is Earl - The Complete First Season
[four-disc set], Kaki King - Until We Felt Red, M. Ward - Post-War, The Clash - Rude Boy: The Movie, Heart Like a Wheel, Baghdad ER, Beavis & Butt-Head - The Mike Judge Collection: Volume Three [three-disc set] (I also
reviewed sets one and two), Remington Steele - Seasons Four and Five [five dual-disc set] (I also reviewed seasons two and three), and The Wizard (with Fred Savage and Rilo Kiley's Jenny Lewis).

Resonance: Hypatia Lake - "...And We Shall Call Him Joseph."
This review got bumped from the last issue, but it appears to
have been resurrected. Click here for an alternate version.

Seattle Sound: Short piece
about We Go Way Back, for
which I interviewed writer/
director Lynn Shelton and
composer Laura Veirs [right,
Year of Meteors]. I al-
so penned a miniscule side-
bar profiling The Film Com-
pany, which produced Shel-
ton's film, and the Northwest Film Forum, which produced and distributed Police Beat.

Seattle Film Blog: Interview with Keith Fulton and review of Army of Shadows (Jean-Pierre Melville and Lino Ventura take on the 
French Resistance). One of my favorite films of the year.

Endnote: Much of the We Go Way Back soundtrack comes from Carbon Glacier and Year of Meteors. Two early Veirs' recordings, Troubled by the Fire and The Triumphs & Travails of Orphan Mae, have just been re-released. She also appears on the Decemberists' Crane Wife. Image from Laura Veirs' website.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Portrait of Marisa Monte

I'm posting this pretty, yet pensive image here as Blue Note was kind enough to send it to me and because I wasn't able to attach it to my previous posts about the Brazilian singer.

I'm not sure why, but for the past few months, it's gotten harder and harder to add pictures to my posts (I can't tell if it's the program or the pictures). In any case, it usually takes a few tries before I can get one to stick. Consequently, I haven't been able to use some of my favorite images. Like this one. So, I figured I'd create a new post and try it again. Voila--it worked!

While I'm at it, if you missed my ramblings on Universo Ao Meu Redor and Infinito Particular, please click here and here. (Both CDs are still set to be released on 9/12.) Unfortunately, Monte's American dates have since been announced and they don't include Seattle. With Bumbershoot (9/2-4) just around the corner, she would've been an ideal addition.

Since Seu Jorge, who I caught in concert last month (it was the reinvigorated Os Mutantes last night), co-wrote a couple of the songs on Infinito, I'm adding this strikingly sexy-surly image of him that I've been saving for just such an occasion. Enjoy!

Note: Monte image courtesy Metro Blue/Blue Note. Jorge image from his official website. For more information on Monte, please click here and for Jorge, click here. Also, his latest film, Andrucha Waddington's House of Sand, opens at Seattle's Metro on 8/25.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Where in the World is...

Carmen Sandiego? Matt
Lauer? No, me. Here are
some of the more interesting
sites on which I've found my
reviews and other ephemera.


Analogue Haven:
Amazon reviews of The Director's Series, Vols. 4-6

[The typos are their addition.]
Amazon review of Various Artists -
Austin City Limits Music Festival 2005

Canine Equipment Outfitters:
Amazon review of My Family and Other Animals

CD Baby:
(Over-long) AMG bio of Dennis Driscoll

Facets of Religion:
Amazon review of Luther

Reference to my Siffblog review of Brigitte and Brigitte:

Somewhat related is Kathy Fennessy's Siffblog entry on Sam Fuller and Luc Moullet, in which Cahiers has a cameo.

[Thanks to Bill for bringing this to my attention.]

Metroblogging Seattle:
Siffblog list of release dates
AMG review of The 13th Floor Elevators - Live
AMG review of Nicolai Dunger - Tranquil Isolation

Endnote: I had the good fortune to interview Michel Gondry while in town with The Science of Sleep, which opens on 9/22/06. We also chatted about the underlooked Dave Chappelle's Block Party, among other projects, like his Director's Series DVD. He was very happy with the way that turned out and looks forward to doing another. Incidentally, when I asked if he was a fan of Serge Gainsbourg (he cast Serge's daughter, Charlotte, in Science), he replied, "In my home, the two Gods were Serge Gainsbourg and Duke Ellington." He also described Charlotte as "magical." Images from the IMDb (that's Gael García Bernal on the drums).

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Review Roundup

Jeff, Castle Storm, Infinity Cat

Jeff is Jake and Jamin Orrall, rocking the Thurston Moore look in the photo to the left. (They were 16 and 14 when they started Infinity Cat.) Their third LP consists of loud, jammy stuff laid down in two days. The 13 ditties touch on prog, punk, hardcore, and metal. Jake shouts and strums, while Jamin beats the skins. To be sure: It rocks, but this kind of material works best live.

Carolyn AlRoy, Gorgeous Enormous, Wussy

Her debut is a singer-songwritery thing with country tinges. New York poet-turned-psychotherapist AlRoy sings like Lois Maffeo, which is to the good, but Gorgeous Enormous doesn't do it for me. She looks like a swell gal, though, so I feel like a wet blanket for providing such weak praise. This is a respectable effort, just not edgy/distinguished enough to stand out from the pack. Includes an okay "Helter Skelter" and a touching take on Pee Wee King's oft-covered "You Belong to Me." Produced by Matt Keating and engineered by Adam Lasus (Clap Your Hands Say Yeah).

Cake Bake Betty, Songs About Teeth!, Infinity Cat

New Jersey's Lindsay Powell is Cake Bake Betty. Be Your Own Pet's Jamin Orall co-produced and adds beats to her skeletal piano pop. Songs About Teeth! sounds nothing like BYOP, but I like it. Powell has a sweet, yet assertive voice. The word "precocious" springs to mind--and I mean that in the best possible sense.

Miss Violetta Beauregarde, Odi Profanum Vulgus et Arceo, Temporary Residence Ltd.

The title means "I hate the common crowd and I spurn them." As such, one wouldn't expect wispy words of bliss. There are none to be found on this brief collection of 16 spiky diatribes. Miss Beauregarde has been described as "one young Italian woman and her inebriating ten-euro keyboard." That she is. Songs include "I'm the Tiennamen Square Guy and You All Are the Fucking Tanks" and "The Unbearable Lightness of a Farm Tractor." Le Tigre meets Whitehouse. A refreshing palate cleanser in small doses.

Endnote: Jeff and CBB's "Sybling Symmetry" tour continues through the end of the month. Please see Infinity Cat for dates (Jake and Jamin run the label with their father, artist/musician Robert Ellis Orral). Images from the IC and Miss Violetta websites. Oh, and be sure to check out Miss V's bio. It's a corker.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Alaska Is Not in America

In the course of writing about the latest Long Winters release, Putting the Days to Bed, I decided to do a little reading about the Seattle band. Their website is a great place to start. Along the way, I stumbled across a piece in The Stranger called "Harm's Way" (2/21/02), in which I found that frontman John Roderick moved to Alaska the same year I did: 1971.

I wonder if that means his family also took a trip to the Anchorage International Airport to see Richard Nixon when he came to town during his 1972 re-election campaign? Heck, we did, and there were no Republicans in our house. No matter. It was something to do. And he was President. I even waved a little flag along with the rest of the crowd. (Alas, I missed Paul McCartney's trip through the same airport after his 1980 pot bust.)

A few years later, I sauntered over to the Park Strip, mere blocks from our downtown duplex, to see the Pope. Unlike my parents--and most of the rest of my family--I wasn't raised a Catholic, but it was the Pope! In Alaska! Popemobile and everything. I found the whole experience very cool. I had just written a report about Pope John II and was psyched to see him in person.

Anyway, in The Stranger piece Roderick notes, "Growing up in Alaska, we were Americans, but Alaska is not in America. So I developed this America thing. I really wanted to know about the country." He has a point. You can't just hop in a car and drive to Oregon. Travelling to another state is a big thing. Bigger in the less-wired world of the 1970s even than it is now.

I never developed that same sense of wanderlust, as my parents divorced when I was a tyke, and I logged many air miles from that point forward (to visit my dad in Virginia, then later California). I was getting out of the state more often than most Alaskans.

Anyway, I also discovered that Roderick graduated from East Anchorage High School. Well, I graduated from East's arch-rival, West. Did I take that "rival" stuff seriously? Yes and no. Football games, basketball games--they were things to do. I wasn't all that into sports then any more than I am now, but I'd grab a few games here and there. When I did go, it's inevitable that I'd do a little chanting, so I pulled my old journal off the shelf to look up a few chants. They're perfectly ridiculous. And I should add, most of the East High kids I met back in the day were pretty cool. But you know how groupthink works when you're in your teens...


When you're up, you're up
And when you're down, you're down.
But when you're up against the Eagles,
You're upside down!


Two bits, four bits,
Six bits a dollar,
All for the Eagles,
Stand up and holler!


We're gonna yell (oh yeah!),
We're gonna scream (oh yeah!),
We're gonna beat that
T-bird football team!


The Eagle was the West High mascot. The Thunderbird was the East High mascot. While I'm at it, here are the other mascots from my youth: The Willowcrest Elementary School Wolverine, the Romig Junior High School Trojan, and the Whitman College Missionary (the school began life as a seminary). Yes, the last two go together quite well. I also attended an elementary school in Boulder, CO for six months and another in Daly City, CA for a year (Roosevelt). I don't remember the name of the Colorado school, nor do I remember the mascots for either. Lastly, here's my high school song, sung to the tune of "On Wisconsin."


On the Anchor

On the anchor,
On the anchor,
Hail old Westside High.
Loyal hearts
Forever praise thee,
Loud our chorus cries.
Rah, rah, rah!

On the anchor,
On the anchor,
Echoes to the sky.
Hail fellow, ever hail
Old Westside High!

Endnote: Thanks to John Roderick for (inadvertently) reminding me about this stuff. Incidentally, there's a song on his new album called "Fire Island, AK." I'm guessing he's referring to the one in Cook Inlet (there are, apparently, three Fire Islands in Alaska).

Although I never forget that I'm an Alaskan (even if I was born in Connecticut), I often forget what it was like to live there. It seems so long ago. My mom resides there still, but everyone else has moved on. Of course, plenty of folks have moved there since. By the time I hit high school, I knew it wasn't for me, and I was anxious to, uh, make like a priest...and get the hell out of there! (I was quite fond of that one back in the 1980s.) But it made me what I am. Alaska will always be a part of me, and it will never be like anywhere else in America. Images from Barsuk Records, CNN, and Anchorage High School.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Who is Peter Tevis: Part II

Last month, I posted a message from
Bob Cumbow
regarding American singer/songwriter Peter Tevis, who influenced the sound of the spaghetti western through his association with Italian composer Ennio Morricone. Bob forwarded the post to Peter, who responds with his own take on the story. With
his permission, I am posting it here.

Here's the true story of "A Fistful of Dollars." I was working at the Teatro De Opera as a stereo stage manager at about 24 years of age in 1961, when I was introduced to an Italian lady who had established herself by helping singers get started. She made an appointment for me to go to RCA, to meet Pierrot Ricordi. I remember putting my foot on his desk and singing my own rendition of "Pastures of Plenty." He offered me a contract of two singles. He also made an appointment for me to see Morricone. We cut the record and I was lost for a while.

At this time, Sergio Leone needed a score for his film Per Pugno di Dolari, better known to us as A Fistful of Dollars, and he didn't like any of the ones Morricone had written so far. While trying to find something that was "different" and could work for Leone's film, my single "Pastures of Plenty" happened to get played. At this point I had developed a bombastic way of playing guitar. From what I've heard, when Leone heard the single he cried out, "That's it!" and thus was the score to A Fistful of Dollars born.

At about this time, I went to the movies in Italy and heard my song played as the background music for the opening sequence. Except, they had removed my voice and the lyrics to the song, and replaced them with the whistling we hear when we see the film today. I went to RCA claiming that I was going to file a suit, but according to them there's an Italian clause that says "The injured party must gain something from the other party" and so they asked me what I wanted. I said I'd like to make an album with Morricone, and so I got my wish and he and I made the Fistful LP record. My original "Pastures of Plenty" was suppressed, otherwise that first single would have appeared on the LP.

As naïve as I was, I had no idea that it would become one of the biggest films in cinema history. I felt that Ennio was under pressure to produce a cheap soundtrack as he had no idea how the movie would do either. I often wonder what happened to all those 45's containing my "Pastures of Plenty."

Endnote: Thanks to Bob for the original message and to Peter
for the follow-up. For more on Morricone, I recommend "Water Drops on Burning Rocks" in the 07/06 Sight & Sound. About the song, Guido Bonsaver writes, "A couple of notes from the whistled melody for Fistful of Dollars (1964) brings the entire tune to mind, but a second listening reveals the piece's sophistication. While the light-hearted tone chimes with Leone's demystification of the Western tradition, the use of non-orchestral sounds such as whipcracks and church bells demonstrates Morricone's own interest in experimentation." Image from Wikipedia.

Monday, July 10, 2006

July, July

July, July, July
It never seemed so strange.
-- The Decemberists

Here are the reviews I'm
working on for this month.

Amazon: Carnivàle - The Complete Second Season [six-disc set]
(I also reviewed the first season), Our Brand Is Crisis (revealing
doc about the American-consulted campaign of a Bolivian presiden-
tial candidate), Dashboard Confessional - Dusk and Summer (louder, less whiny), Joshua Radin - We Were Here, Widespread Panic - Earth to America, Greg Graffin - Cold as the Clay (Bad Religion singer goes solo), the Long Winters - Putting the Days to Bed (third release from John Roderick's local combo), David Ford - I Sincerely Apologize For All The Trouble I've Caused, Palm World Voices - Mandela [CD/DVD/book/map combo] (Oscar-nominated, Jonathan Demme-produced doc), Lois & Clark - The New Adventures of Superman: The Complete Third Season [six-disc set] (I loved this show back in the day, i.e. the mid-90s), and Live - Songs From the Black Mountain.

Seattle Film Blog: The Gang's All Here (Busby Berkeley's technicolor
extravaganza with Carmen Miranda), two by Luc Moullet: Brigitte and Brigitte (with Samuel Fuller and Claude Chabrol!) and A Girl is a Gun (with Jean-Pierre Léaud), and Dominick Moll's Lemming (with the Charlottes Rampling and Gainsbourg).

Endnote: Image from The Village Voice.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Seattle Film Afficianados Respond

To a piece in Slate called
The Movie I've Seen the Most

What movie have you seen the most? That's the question Slate asked a collection of filmmakers and critics, knowing that what's addictive is different than what's deemed the best. The answers vary from Ghostbusters to Dr. Zhivago,
from Citizen Kane to Election.

Michael Sragow, critic, The Baltimore Sun
It was my luck to see the greatest movie ever made, The Wild Bunch, shortly after it opened in the summer of 1969. I saw it six times the first week and may have seen it 50 times since. No other film has such an inside-outside reach. Sam Peckinpah took an oft-told, basic story about outlaws on their last run, turned it into a Homeric epic, and, just along the way, through total commitment and overwhelming talent, managed to express all the divisions of his heart and soul. The movie's size of spirit and vision as well as its physical scope made it a transcendent experience for a then-suburban kid like me.


For me, it's dittoes on Michael Sragow's comment...although I think I may have seen The Birds as many times as The Wild Bunch.
-- Bob Cumbow

For me, it's either Psycho or Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (the Gene Wilder film), the latter playing endlessly on Children's Hospital's closed-circuit system in the years I worked there. -- Tom Keogh

For me, it's The Third Man and National Lampoon's Animal House. (And no, the zither music doesn't bug me.)
-- Kathy Fennessy

I saw Young Frankenstein probably six times one week while it was on heavy rotation on HBO during a summer I spent stringing Hawaiian beads--some summer job. All told, I've probably seen it 8 or 10 times.

But I have surely seen The Searchers more than anything else--including Citizen Kane. It became a cult movie after seeing it in college a number of times, and I returned to see it whenever it played anywhere on the big screen. The first three times I saw it was with my best friend in college, who named his child Ethan. -- Sean Axmaker

I'm somewhat embarassed to say it has to be The Rocky Horror Picture Show given all those weekends at the Neptune! (I was Magenta). -- Gillian G. Gaar

Of late, it's probably Almost Famous, or maybe All About Eve. Although I watched Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark SO much as a kid, it's hard to tell. And I can probably still quote all of The Breakfast Club. Hrm. maybe I should start keeping track with hash marks or something? :) -- Amie Simon

I remember a time in my youth when I went through a phase with both Aliens (watched it at least once a week for awhile) and then Michael Mann's Last of the Mohicans. In total, I have to be unoriginal and fear the amount of times that I watched Star Wars. It was an awfully big part of my life until George started screwing around with them. Nowadays, if nothing else is biting, the movies that get tossed in the most are The Princess and the Warrior (just can't seem to break its hypnotic spell) or the amazing Robert Ryan performance in The Set-Up. -- Dustin Kaspar

It's got to be either Wizard of Oz or Star Wars. Oz because I watched it every time it was on TV growing up. I could not miss it. And those damn monkeys still give me nightmares. Star Wars because I saw it 13 times in 1977 alone and have seen it countless times since either in theaters or at home. The choice I like more as an adult would have to be Blade Runner. I've lost track of the number of times I've seen it. I'm happy with either version.There are lots of movies I will see multiple times on their initial run in the theaters--Serenity is my most recent obsession. My feeling is that it's easier to just go see something you love again than to bother with something that you know won't be as good. :)
-- Kevin Fansler

For me it would have to be La Belle et la bête. I first saw it when I was 10 and then became obsessed with the film when I was in eighth grade. It showed a lot on public television, as did many of the Janus Collection films, and since I lived in an area with three public television stations I saw it at least a dozen times in one year and then several times over the next several years. I don't think I've seen the film since high school and haven't really wanted to, but maybe I'll see it one more time with the Philip Glass score.
-- E. Steven Fried

1. The Godfather (at least 15 times) -- Kubrick once reluctantly admitted "it's probably the greatest film ever made."
2. 2001: A Space Odyssey (approx. 12 times)
3. Chinatown (approx. 10 times)
4. Star Wars (approx. 10 times)
5. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (around eight times)

...then about 25 movies I've seen at least six times (mostly Kubrick)
...and then about 100 movies I've seen three, four or five times
...and finally, about 200 movies I've seen twice.

(Rough estimates, except for 1-5 above.)
-- Jeff Shannon


And here's my favorite contribution to the Slate piece:

Peter Farrelly, director, There's Something About Mary
I've seen Something Wild about 10 times. It's not my all-time favorite movie, but it's right up there. Something about the story and the people and the look of it comforts me. It's a place I know, and it's real, and it hasn't been captured in many movies. I love the music. It's the movie that inspired us to use Jeff Daniels in Dumb and Dumber. He's hysterical here, and Ray Liotta couldn't be cooler and more ominous—he just popped—and I think it's the most interesting thing Melanie Griffith has done, as well. It was written by E. Max Frye and directed by Jonathan Demme, and Demme's just hipper than shit. It's the road stuff that I love the most, but Demme and Tak Fujimoto (the director of photography) managed to make even New York City seem bright and welcoming.

Note: While working on this post, I watched Something Wild for the third time. It really is the essence of 1980s cool--Melanie Griffith with Louise Brooks wig and Masai neckpiece, theme song by David Byrne, the Feelies as high school reunion band, and cameos by Johns Sayles (traffic cop) and Waters (used car salesman). Images from Beyond Hollywood and MovieMeter.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

On Covering Gainsbourg:
Part IV

Intoxicated Man (1995, Mute)
Pink Elephants (1997, Mute)

The idea to make this record began from a combination of personal curiosity about Gainsbourg's material (particularly his lyrics) and a growing bewilderment that his work is virtually unknown outside French speaking countries.
-- Mick Harvey (from the liner notes to the first album)

The songs were written by Serge Gainsbourg. All 32--16 per record--have been translated into English. Mick Harvey (Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds) performs them with Anita Lane (Jane Birkin to his Gainsbourg), Warren Ellis (the Dirty Three, The Proposition), and other Australian notables. I have to admit he has the voice for it, i.e. he isn't a great singer, but he's good and his voice is deep like Gainsbourg's. I honestly think a man who sings too well wouldn't be able to do these songs justice. A smooth crooner like Sufjan Stevens, for instance, just wouldn't work.

I've written previously that I prefer to hear Gainsbourg covered in French. His songs were written that way, make the most sense that way--sound better that way. Well, Harvey gets a free pass. His voice is mixed low enough and the instrumental backing is loud enough that the English is never obvious or overbearing. Yet you can still hear the lyrics (for better or for worse, "con" becomes "cunt"). I think he got the balance right. The vocals on Verve's recent compilation Monsieur Gainsbourg Revisited, pleasant as they are, are mixed too high. Their Englishness can be glaring.

As for the translations, allow me to let Harvey explain how he handled the issue:

Translating a great writer is like walking through a minefield and I set myself the difficult task of attempting to keep the places of rhyming, metre and meaning accurate to the originals. One or more of these elements is usually dispensed with in translating poetry and lyrics, but I did not want to iron out any of Gainsbourg's obtuse angles on things or lose any of his especially perverse and peculiar touches. Some word plays and turns of phrase were inevitably lost. For this I make no apology.

From an interview with Mute Records, he adds:

[T]here were some songs I didn't do, because I just couldn't really approach the lyrics...especially things that were loads of alliterations and stuff like that. It just wasn't really feasible.

For the most part it works, although I prefer the Laetitia Sadier-Dean Wareham "Bonnie and Clyde." Yes, this is partly because they sing it in French (Sadier's native language), but also because their voices work better together. Lane, who has a "thinner" voice, isn't quite up to the task. That said, I prefer Harvey's version of "Chatterton" to Seu Jorge's. To his credit, Jorge does a better job at transforming the song into something new. He starts by translating the lyrics into Portuguese and changing a few of the names, but the song's forward momentum ends up getting lost. Harvey maintains the the song's "edge." Plus, the thing just swings.

A few more observations. These aren't greatest hits compilations (I didn't recognize all the songs). If they were, Harvey would have included "Je t' non plus" on the first album rather than the second. Incidentally, it's titled "I love you (me either)" on Monsieur Gainsbourg Revisited and "I love you...nor do I" on Pink Elephants (seems to me the ellipses are rather essential). On said album, it's performed by Nick Cave and then-girlfriend Lane.

For those who haven't heard these discs, The Intoxicated Man probably seems like the one to get (if you're gonna get one). But if that's the case, I suggest picking up both. They were recorded around the same time and are pretty equal in terms of quality; the first makes for a more consistent listen, although Pink Elephants has the best song: "Anthracite," with Intoxicated Man's "Chatterton" a close second.

If I were to nitpick, I'd say the biggest problem with these covers isn't that they aren't in French, but that they're less exciting than the originals. Then again, isn't that inevitable with a project of this kind? It's not that Harvey has cleaned things up too much, but that he's not as much of a dirty old man. A certain amount of sleaze was, unavoidably, lost in translation. Otherwise, I don't think Harvey and his collaborators could've done a better job at reinventing Gainsbourg for the English-speaking world.

(I) obviously worked with people... worked with translators and stuff who could tell me all the different sort of weird literary references and strange things that are running through all this. I never would have got to most of it by myself with a dictionary.
-- Mick Harvey (from the Mute interview)

Endnote: This is actually part five in a series (but if I change the title, I render the URL obsolete). For more info on Mick Harvey, please see his website. Images from Mute Records, the Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds website, and Google. Thanks to Steven for loaning me these CDs. At the same time, he loaned me Jane Birkin's Di Dooh Dah (1973). All songs were written by Gainsbourg with arrangements by Jean-Claude Vannier. Lately, I've been working on an article about Harvey's countryman, Ed Kuepper, who has a song called "La Di Doh." Somehow I don't see Kuepper and Birkin getting together anytime soon--but it would be cool if they did! As for Lane, she issued a follow-up to 1993's Dirty Pearl five years ago, Sex O'Clock [ack], to which Harvey contributes.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Paul Burch, East to West, Bloodshot (8/15/06)

It's impossible to hear this without being frequently reminded of Bob Dylan in his Nashville Skyline phase... There's that same strain to be unforced and easygoing, as if to admit to any measure of doubt or sadness would amount to a cardinal sin.
--Richie Unterberger on
Blue Notes (2000)


East to West, Paul Burch's sixth full-length, is a toe-tapping platter that goes down like a cool glass of iced tea on a hot day. (Allow me to put in a plug for Tazo's tasty Sweet Orange Blossom.) I hear Buddy Holly and Marshall Crenshaw on the faster numbers ("Montreal," "I Will Wait for You"). On the slower ones, I hear...Burch. No other precursors/analogues come to mind. He has his own voice, his own style. Smooth yet earthy, if you will.

But I think what Unterberger wrote about Blue Notes has some bearing here. In his All Music Guide review, he goes on to describe the album as "pleasant and tightly arranged" and "comfortable yet unchallenging." Not being familiar with that release, it seems to me that East to West is a more personal effort. Unterberger's words have some application, yet I suspect Burch is digging deeper this time. And I should note that BBC London proclaimed Blue Notes, "A big contender for album of the year." The AP added, "Excellent!"

The last Bloodshot release I wrote about was one-man band Scott H. Biram's gritty Graveyard Shift, which I liked. East to West, the product of over a dozen musicians (including the WPA Ballclub), is pretty much its polar opposite. It's tasteful where Graveyard was--gleefully--tasteless, but I like it, too. A mite middlebrow I suppose, but never slick. Whether this says something about the diversity of my taste or the breadth of Bloodshot's roster, I couldn't say. (East to West is Burch's second CD for the Chicago indie after two for Checkered Past and two for Merge.)

If I were to discuss demographics, however, I'd imagine that East to West could possibly appeal to a wider/older audience. And I don't mean that as a diss. We all age after all--unless we die before we get old--so why is that sort of observation always perceived as criticism? What I'm suggesting is that my mom, not a close-minded individual by any means, would probably take to it more than the punky Graveyard, just as she'll probably enjoy Robert Altman's folksy elegy A Prairie Home Companion better than grim thriller 13/Tzameti (to name two recent films that couldn't have less in common).

Or, to put it another way, if a gal were to take Biram home to meet her mom, I think she'd be a little...concerned. If that same gal brought Burch instead, I think mom would be right pleased.

East to West was recorded in Burch's adopted Nashville and at Mark Knopfler's London studio, and the guitarist appears on "Before the Bells." A few months ago, I picked up Phil Lynott's Solo in Soho (1980), which also features Knopfler, but doesn't quite work. Thin Lizzy and Dire Straits are two tastes that don't go together. Burch and Knopfler, on the other hand, is a combination that makes sense. The album also features appearances from Kelly Hogan and Bluegrass Hall of Famer Ralph Stanley.

Lastly, I should mention that David Cronenberg appears in Burch's list of thank-yous. I wasn't sure why, so I took a trip over to Burch's website where I found that his "Life of a Fool" appears in A History of Violence, one of my favorite films of 2005. Nice!


If you have ever listened to Bob Dylan's Nashville Skyline and loved it, or wondered why Dylan never again made such a beautifully romantic and simple Paul Burch! Paul begins where Dylan left off, and he does it effortlessly.
-- Aubrey, New York (BBC reader comment)

Note: Images courtesy Merge Records and Pure Music. For more information, please visit the official Paul Burch website.