Friday, October 23, 2009

for Sale

Gogol Bordello, Live from Axis Mundi, SideOneDummy Records

Be Donald Trump or be an anarchist.
-- Gogol Bordello, "American Wedding"

A few weeks ago, I reviewed an Otis Redding starter kit, Shout
Factory's The Best: See & Hear, a CD/DVD set. Live from Ax-
serves a similar purpose for Gogol Bordello, even if
the 11-track CD consists of radio sessions, outtakes, and demos,
while Redding's consists of studio-recorded hit singles (in this
case, "finishing kit" might provide a more applicable term).

Though the New York City-based nine-piece doesn't other-
wise have much in common with the late Georgia soul sing-
er, they're also known for their intense live performances.

Like moustachioed singer and
guitarist Eugene Hütz, who
hails from the Ukraine, most
of the band immigrated from
Eastern Europe and Israel.
Since 1999 and over the
course of four full-lengths,
Roma-style violin and accor-
dion have provided a base for
his impassioned, heavily-accented vocals as guitars crunch and drums pound (as an actor, the charismatic Hütz has appeared in Everything Is Illuminated and Madonna's Filth & Wisdom).

On fan favorite "Trouble Friends," from 2005's Gypsy Punks
sessions, the nonet adds washboard—or something that sounds
just like it—to their arsenal, while on "You Gave Up (Roumania),"
recorded for BBC's Radio 1, the guitar-shredding could put Met-
allica to shame. There's a sense that if it sounds good, they'll try
it, hence the Afro-beat horns that decorate "Immigrant Punks,"
which recalls nothing so much as Combat Rock-era Clash.

Never having seen the band before, the DVD offers my first
exposure (by proxy). It captures Gogol Bordello in two sold-
out concerts at NYC's Irving Plaza in 2007. In their goulash of
worlds both old and new, they provide an Eastern Bloc answer
to the whiskey-soaked Pogues, except Hütz seems more, well,
focused than Shane McGowan...for lack of a better word.

As on the CD, the showstopper is the sinuous "Mishto!," even if
the accordion player goes a little off-pitch. The musicians seem
to have the most fun playing the number, which comes on like
DeVotchka fronted by a more rambunctious vocalist. The rest
of the DVD contains extra live tracks, videos, and featurettes.

Sweaty fun for the whole extended clan, Live at Axis Mundi
also works as a sort of thriller: Will Hütz's low-cut jeans stay
on or not? (You'll have to watch for yourself. I'll never tell.)

Cosmo Jarvis, self-titled, Wall of Sound Recordings

Wild humans for sale, but the souls will cost you extra.
-- Cosmo Jarvis, "Wild Humans"

Musically, 19-year-old New Jersey multi-instrumentalist Cos-
mo Jarvis (née Harrison Cosmo Krikoryan Jarvis) recalls Of
Montreal; vocally, he recalls former Pulp member Richard Haw-
. Lyrically, the situation become cloudier, because Jarvis
likes to sing about young actresses, Toy Story 2, and whatever
else strikes his fancy. Of British and Armenian descent, Jarvis has
written 250 songs, produced 100 recordings, and directed 40
short films. I could do without a few of his more adolescent lyrics,
but can forgive most anyone who adds stand-up bass to the mix.
Recommended to fans of MC 900 Foot Jesus and the Streets.

Joel Plaskett, Three, MapleMusic Recordings [4/21/09]

It's a long, long way to Winnipeg.
-- Joel Plaskett, "Wishful Thinking"

For the most part, Halifax native Joel Plaskett, who was 33-1/3
years old when he recorded Three, has his own sound, but at
times he brings Steve Earle, the Band, and a few other insurgent
country acts to mind (to swipe a term from Bloodshot Records).
So it comes as little surprise that he laid down the tracks on this
set in the US and Canada, specifically Ontario, Nova Scotia, Tex-
as, and Tennessee with Doug Easley (Tav Falco's Panther Burns).

As a singer, Plaskett isn't as distinctive as Earle or Levon Helm, but his voice is easy on the ears; comfortable and conversational, like a friend sharing stories rather than a troubadour trying to impress (to that list, the AMG adds Gram Parsons and Jeff Buckley).

Similarly, Plaskett's sixth CD, with or without the Emergency,
is an easygoing listen with electric and acoustic guitars, penny whistles, and fiddles, lending the proceedings a Celtic vibe. There
are no duds, but three discs is still a bit much. I never got bored
or irritated, but my mind wandered at times, which isn't a bad
thing, just a sign that a shorter set might've been sufficient.

Click here for my review of Ashtray Rock

Endnote: For more information about Gogol Bordello, please click here or here; for Cosmo Jarvis, here or here; and for Joel Plaskett, here or here. Photos from New York (Getty Images), Pat Angello Fan Club Music Blog, and Driven (Ingram Barss).

Sunday, October 11, 2009

I've Got Dreams to Remember

Otis Redding, The
Best: See & Hear,
Shout Factory!

I can't do what 10 people
tell me to do, so I guess
I'll remain the same.
-- Otis Redding, "(Sittin'

on) the Dock of the Bay"

Any music collection without an Otis Redding record, let alone
a Redding song on a compilation or soundtrack, is woefully incom-
plete. Granted, not everyone is into R&B, but some artists, like
Elvis or the Beatles, transcend genre conventions, and I see no
reason why rock and pop fans who don't normally listen to soul
wouldn't appreciate Otis, particularly his brass-blasted cover of
Jagger and Richards' "Satisfaction," which doesn't hit the sweet
spot quite like Stevie Wonder's version of Lennon and McCart-
ney's "We Can Work Out," but offers its own unique pleasures.

As Richie Unterberger points out, in his All Music Guide biography, the 'Stones, in turn, would cover Redding's
"That's How Strong My Love Is" and "Pain in My Heart."

There isn't a soul aficionado alive who isn't familiar with Redding,
so there's no point in preaching to the choir. Granted, some pur-
ists believe that crossover automatically equals sellout, but that's only fair when an artist compromises their integrity to reach a wider audience, and I'm not aware that Redding ever acted against his artistic impulses to attract white listeners. The proof lies in the fact that old fans didn't abandon him when he appeared at the Monterey Pop Festival or when Top 40 embraced "(Sittin' on) The Dock of the Bay," the chart-topper released in the wake of the plane crash that took his life. A great song is a great song.

The Best: See & Hear operates
as a Redding Starter Kit with a 12-
track CD and a 12-track DVD. The
former includes the expected sing-
les, including Lowell Fulson's
"Tramp" with Carla Thomas, while
the latter captures Redding in 1967,
at Monterey and as part of a Euro-
pean Stax/Volt tour with Booker T.
and the MG's and Sam & Dave, who
perform some of their own sides.

I've been listening to the CD non-stop since I received it a few
weeks ago, and although it's tempting to proclaim Redding the
greatest soul singer of all time, I can't do that in good conscience,
not when I feel similarly about Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye. All
three died way too young, and under the most tragic of circum-
stances, but when I listen to Redding at his best, I find it easy to
forget all that: his warm and wonderful voice will live forever.

Click here for reviews of Cosmo Jarvis - S/T and Joel Plaskett - Three.

Endnote: Snaps from the AMG and Google Images.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Movie of the Month: Part 11 

I recently reviewed the following film for Video Librarian, and thought the results were worth sharing. 

ENDGAME [***1/2] 
(Pete Travis, UK, 2008, 109 mins.) 

An all-star cast populates this historical thriller about oppositional figures who find common ground for the betterment of their country. While Clint Eastwood's upcoming bio-pic, Invictus, focuses on Nelson Mandela (played by Morgan Freeman), Vantage Point director Pete Travis spotlights South Africa's lesser known political players.

  Taking cues from Robert Harvey's book, The Fall of Apartheid, Paula Milne’s script begins in 1985 when mild-mannered Briton Michael Young (Eli Stone's Jonny Lee Miller), public affairs director for Consolidated Goldfields, meets charismatic African National Congress delegate Thabo Mbeki (Redbelt’s Chiwetel Ejiofor), and concludes with the release of imprisoned ANC leader Mandela (The Wire’s Clarke Peters), paving the way for the democracy to come. 

In looking out for his company's best interests, Young seeks to help dismantle the nation's racist infrastructure, seeing it as a mutually beneficial outcome (Derek Jacobi plays his supervisor). In the process, he recruits Afrikaaner philosophy professor Will Esterhuyse (Oscar winner William Hurt) to lead the talks between the two sides. 

From the start, however, Mbeki makes it clear that he envisions a return to majority rule rather than a power- share. Though sympathetic, Esterhuyse fears that this will lead to widespread retaliation
for decades of discrimination. As they come to trust each oth-
er, a way forward emerges, despite the attempts by President
P.W. Botha (Timothy West) and National Intelligence Service
agent Dr. Niel Barnard (Mark Strong) to discredit Mbeki.  

Originally broadcast on Britain’s Channel 4 in May (to surprising- ly low ratings), Endgame airs in the US as part of PBS’s Master- piece Contemporary series (and in a limited theatrical release). Travis and Milne do a fine job in recounting an important story, but Ejiofor and Hurt give it heart. Highly recommended. 

Click here for Movie of the Month, Part 10: An Audience of One  PBS PREVIEWS / Masterpiece Contemporary: Endgame 

Endnote: Not to be confused with the Sam Beckett joint, Endgame airs on PBS stations, including KCTS 9, on 10/25 and in theaters on 10/30 (check local listings for your area). Slightly revised from the original text. Images from Ace Showbiz (Copyright © Monterey Media. All Rights Reserved).

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Making a

Do, Mad
town/Atlantic [***]

Imagine: just a couple of months ago you were in my testicle,
now you are screaming and crying and making a spectacle.

-- "Baby" (Prince Zimboo)

Following up on his fabulous Top Ranking collaboration
with Santigold, mixer, producer, disc jockey, and Mad De-
honcho Diplo (Yank Wes Pentz) unites with Switch
(Brit Dave Taylor) for a dancehall-oriented throwdown.

Santi returns to contribute
vocals to the ringing, buzzing,
spaghetti western-infused
opener "I'll Make Ya." Other
than her and Amanda Blank,
who appears on the X-rat-
ed "What U Like," one of the
weaker tracks, the remaining
17 vocalists are new to me.

Bearing such sprightly handles as Mr. Lex, Ms. Thing, Future Trouble, and Turbulence, they rap and toast over dub, dance beats, and some of the world's most inventive sound effects.

Click here for the "Hold the Line" video

Recorded at Jamaica's legendary Tuff Gong Studios, where Bob
did his best work, the resulting 13-track record recalls everyone from Madness to UB40 to the Beastie Boys (see Mr. E-
vil and Mapei's cartoon cannibus tribute "Mary Jane"). I could
do without the Kanye-style autotune vocals on "Keep It Goin'
Louder," but otherwise recommend this instant party jam.

Endnote: For more information, please click here.
Images from Boysnoise Records and

Thursday, October 01, 2009


These are
the reviews
and other
pieces I'm

on this

Amazon DVDs: Dirty Sexy Money - The Com-
plete and Final Second Season
[three-disc set], Lost -
The Complete Fifth Season
[five-disc set], and Spread.

Amazon Theatricals: Black Dynamite, Coco Before Chanel, Law Abiding Citizen, Where the Wild Things Are, and This Is It.

Still playing: Cold Souls and Public Enemies.

KCTS 9: These are some of the press releases I've written
or to which I've contributed: King County Executive debate,
KCTS 9 Cooks for the Holidays, Conversations line-up, Isa-
bella Rossellini invite
, Good Food premiere, Golden Apple
, and Kresge Green Building Initiative grant.

Video Librarian: Barbie and the Three Musketeers,
Grey's Anatomy - The Complete Fifth Season [seven-
disc set], Heartland - Season One: Part One [two-disc
set], Private Practice - The Complete Second Season
[six-disc set], Ugly Betty - The Complete Third Season
[six-disc set], Election Day, Il Divo, Knut & Friends, Li-
li and the Baobab, Mandie and the Secret Tunnel, Rage,
and Sgt. Frog - Season One: Part One [two-disc set].

Endnote: Image from Apparition (click link for trailer).