Thursday, September 27, 2012

NOSEBLEED EP - Betty White (2010)

Not to be confused in any way with either the persona or upbeat disposition of the venerated television actress from whom this upstart LA-based band takes their name, the music on Betty White's promising, surly, self-released debut EP hearkens back to the classic days of early British punk...those formative years when the bass was rock bottom, the mixes gritty but clear, the vocals delivered with a helium snarl rather than a guttural scream, and the urge to express anger and rage was in no way justification for ignoring the hooks.

Hitting forcefully with six swift, engaging, left-of-center bursts, the whole band acquits itself well, but the clear star is lead singer/principal songwriter/intimidating live presence Robert James, who ferociously combines Johnny Rotten's bullying whine with the demented unpredictability of Les Savy Fav's Tim Harrington.

Well worth checking out, both live and on record. 

Status: Solid Recommend

Cherry Picker's Best Bets: Nosebleed, Middleman, Bathroom Mat.

Track Listing:
1. Nosebleed - 8
2. Middleman - 8
3. Flesh & Spit - 7
4. Old Son - 7
5. Bathroom Mat - 9
6. The Form - 7
Intangibles - Above Average
Spotify! / I-Tunes / Amazon

Here's the official video for Bathroom Mat.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

WILD FLAG (2011)

When it was first released back last September, this rousing self-titled debut from all-female supergroup Wild Flag had several prominent critics clamoring to declare it the best album of 2011.

Well folks, I got news for you.

In a year that gave us Tuneyard's vibrant Whokill, Destroyer's Kaputt, and especially PJ Harvey's masterful Let England Shake, Wild Flag ain't quite that good.

But there remains a ton to like.

The band...comprised of indie superstars Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss of Sleater-Kinney, the Minders' Rebecca Cole, and Helium's Mary Timony...pulls from all four members past efforts, but it's the high-powered psych-rock feel of Sleater-Kinney's final two albums that looms largest.

If anything, the album feels like the poppier, slightly less confident kid sister to SK's '05 masterpiece The Woods...not quite as assertive, not quite as attractive, not quite as daring or adventurous, but still plenty damn hot.

Brownstein, stepping out from monster-voiced SK teammate Corin Tucker's shadow, handles most of the vocals here, and her spirited, punky yelps do the album proud.  Weiss's thunderous drumming is, as always, exceptional, and Cole provides all manner of engaging keys.

Timony's vocals are another matter.  With a delivery style similar to Brownstein's, but much weaker in presence, they're one of the albums two chief drawbacks.

Luckily, just when Timony seems positioned to sing a song into oblivion, the band's fabulous group harmonies and bad-ass instrumentation swoop in to save the day.  A number of the songs here, particularly Glass Tambourine, Short Version, and Black Tiles, start out good to just okay, but then explode into swaggering awesomeness on their back halves.

And it's that swagger, whether on more playful efforts like jaunty opener Romance, or in the album's highpoint, the jammy, cut-it-loose throwaway Racehorse, that one takes away most from Wild Flag.

My only other complaint: some of the material here, especially on the album's much weaker front half, feels hastily assembled.

The band started generating heat from public performances far before this record was released, and  it feels as if weaker tracks like Boom, Endless Talk and the clumsy opening half of Glass Tambourine weren't given the proper amount of time to gestate in the rush to capitalize on the band's growing live buzz.

But that said, it's impressive how cohesive, ballsy, and fun much of the rest of the material is.

Like I said, it ain't the best album of 2011.

But it definitely deserves some consideration for runner up.

Status: Strong Recommend

Cherry Picker's Best Bets: Romance, Short Version, Racehorse, Black Tiles.

Track Listing:
1. Romance - 9
2. Something Came Over Me - 8
3. Boom - 6
4. Glass Tambourine - 7
5. Endless Talk - 7
6. Short Version - 9
7. Electric Band - 8
8. Future Crimes - 8
9. Racehorse - 10
10. Black Tiles - 8
Intangibles - Above Average
Spotify / I-Tunes / Amazon

Here's the official video for Romance.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

BAND OF JOY - Robert Plant (2010)

An engaging and logical follow-up to Plant and Alison Krauss' hit 2007 album Raising Sand, Band Of Joy is a return to roots both musical and personal.

Musically, this album of exclusively covers is a natural continuation of the country-tinged Americana Plant so effectively laid-out on Raising Sand.

But in reclaiming the name Band Of Joy, Plant is also drawing links to his own past, to his mid-60s, pre-Led Zeppelin days, to the British blues-rock outfit he helmed with cohort John Bonham before Jimmy Page became a principal driver in their musical careers.

The result is an album that pulls strongly from both prior influences.  Raising Sand participant  Buddy Miller doubles as guitarist and producer here, taking over production duties from T-Bone Burnett, and the glorious Patty Griffin steps into the Alison Krauss role, but otherwise, the song selection feels similarly structured.

What has changed, however, is the attitude and tone.

Gone is Sand's and T-Bone Burnett's hi-fidelity, faux-dated gloss.

Band Of Joy is grittier, moodier, with a much more naturalistic, lived-in feel to its nostalgic vibe. In fact, I don't think I'm going out on much of a limb here to say the real star of Band Of Joy is neither Plant or Griffin, but Miller, whose swampy guitar tones and production dominate the album.

Griffin, sadly, is criminally underutilized.

Unlike on Raising Sand, where Plant and Krauss alternated leads, Plant doesn't share any lead work this time out; Patty serves here solely as a harmonist.  But one can hope - especially given that Plant and Griffin have since eloped - that Patty will be provided a greater opportunity to shine on the second go round. After all, Plant may be one of the greatest Rock 'n' Roll singers of all time, but he's now only the second best singer in his immediate family.

But back to the songs themselves.

There are a number of standouts here, and part of the fun is how different Plant and Miller's takes are from the originals, while still preserving a clear sense of the originals.

Among my personal favorites are the Beatle-esque rendition of You Can't Buy My Love, the dirty, bluesy flow to Even This Shall Pass Away, and a superlative cover of Los Lobos' Angel Dance, but irony of ironies, two of the album's best tracks are also its two most disappointing.

Both songs, Silver Rider and Monkey, are covers pulled from Minnesota indie act Low's 2005 release The Great Destroyer.

Miller does a marvelous job recasting those originally soaring numbers as haunting, swampy brooders, and it's on these tracks that his killer guitar work really shines, but for some reason, Plant and Griffin's vocals, which would seem perfect for these songs, don't come close to matching the spine-tingling harmonies exhibited by Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker in the originals.  Silver Rider's massive wordless chorus, in particular, seems to have been unnecessarily simplified here.

But those quibbles aside, I actually found Band Of Joy to be straight up a better album than Raising Sand. 

I doubt fans of Plant's hard-rocking Led Zeppelin days will be wowed, but enthusiasts of Plant's more recent country-oriented work are well-advised to check this out.

Status: Solid Recommend

Cherry Pickers Best Bets: Angel Dance, You Can't Buy My Love, Silver Rider, Monkey.

Track Listing:
1. Angel Dance - 8
2. House Of Cards - 7
3. Central Two-O-Nine - 6
4. Silver Rider - 9
5. You Can't Buy My Love - 9
6. Falling In Love Again - 7
7. The Only Sound That Matters - 8
8. Monkey - 8
9. Cindy (I'll Marry You Someday) - 7
10. Harm's Swift Way - 7
11. Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down - 7
12. Even This Shall Pass Away - 8
Intangibles - Above Average
Spotify / I-Tunes / Amazon

Here's the official video for Band Of Joy's cover of Los Lobos' Angel Dance.