Sunday, March 25, 2007

Sketches of the Southwest

Tuatara, East of
the Sun, Fast Horse
Recordings [6/12/07]

"Musically, the Sun songs are more masculine, with a kind
of High Plains Drifter/Spanish troubadour quality. The Moon songs are more groovy and feminine, but definitely just as powerful..."
-- Barrett Martin (Tuatara)


Tuatara's fifth full-length feels a lot like a compilation.
And I don't mean that as criticism. It's simply a more
fitting description than the misleading “supergroup.”

The compilation designation comes about because the ever-changing line-up was all-instrumental before they added vocals to their arsenal. This time around, duties are shared between Scott McCaughey (the Minus Five), Gary Louris and Mark Olson (the Jayhawks, below), Jessy Greene (the Geraldine Fibbers), Dean Wareham (Luna), Mark Eitzel (American Music Club), Gina Sala, Coleman Barks, Victoria Williams, and John Wesley Harding.

If I wanted to get completist about it, I could add that McCaughey is also from the Young Fresh Fellows and REM and that Wareham is also from Galaxie 500 and Dean and Britta. And that's just to start. Altogether these players have been in dozens of bands.

I'm not familiar with Sala or Barks (Sufi Poet), who reminds me of Billy Bob Thornton—he speaks rather than sings—but
I am acquainted with Harding and Williams (Olson's wife) through their solo work.

Other guests include Ottmar Liebert on guitar ("The Spaniard"
and "Bones, Blood and Skin") and Iraq's Rahim Alhaj on oud
("A Spark in the Wind"), while Tuatara's core members—this
time around—include drummer Martin (Skinyard, the Screaming Trees, Mad Season), guitarists McCaughey and Peter Buck (REM), bass player Kevin Hudson, and trumpet player Dave Carter.

A lot of these artists have ties to the Northwest, but this album has more of a contemplative Southwestern feel, akin to Giant Sand or Calexico. Before checking the credits, I actually confused Louris for Calexico's John Convertino (Louris sings on "The Spaniard," "Madrigal," and "Love Is"). The impressionistic gold and orange cover art only serves to reinforce the impression. Then again, Martin, the driving force behind Tuatara/Fast Horse Recordings, transferred his operations from Seattle to Taos some time ago.

If you're interested in any of these musicians, especially
the Jayhawks or Calexico [right], East of the Sun is worth a listen. To sample the entire album, please click here. Companion recording West of the Moon is set to
be released later this year.

Endnote: To sample tracks from previous efforts, along with solo albums from Martin and Alhaj, click here. Images from Fast Horse Recordings and the AMG. Note that the Tuatara portrait isn't a current one, since Justin Harwood and Steve Berlin aren't part of the latest incarnation (that's Martin on the far left). Incidentally, I once met the Jayhawks backstage before a Seattle show with Soul Asylum. They seemed like really nice guys—Soul Asylum, too.

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