Thursday, February 04, 2010

Austin & Back & Reviews

So I had a whirlwind of excellence times over the past week in Austin. Congratulations to the bride & groom - I hope I did well enough marrying you folks.

Too bad it was too cold to walk around much, but I did hit some really cool places along South Congress - and the Waterloo Records stop yielded some great 7 inches. I can guarantee that my first visit won't be my last. It's just too bad there weren't any shows that fit into the schedule while I was there.

Now that I'm back, I have some reviews for everybody to check out.

First up is the Dave Rawlings Machine, in this week's East Bay Express:

Hardly a background player during his excellent career as a producer, cowriter, lead guitarist and harmony singer, Dave Rawlings has nevertheless been content to hand over the reins. On the first album recorded under his name, Rawlings reveals a more well-rounded talent than he shows as a sideman. His clear tenor and distinctive acoustic guitar work become the cornerstone, rather than merely providing accents. Across nine songs, Rawlings is a master at subtle stylistic shifts in his bluegrass-tinged folk and boisterous old-timey music.

His band — The Machine — is a collection of friends and past collaborators: Gillian Welch, Old Crow Medicine Show, and Benmont Tench (The Heartbreakers). It's hardly a surprise that they mesh so well. As a songwriter, Rawlings shows both cleverness and tenderness, but he's also drawn to playfulness in his cover of Jesse Fuller's "Monkey and The Engineer." With its gentle strings and glorious harmony, opener "Ruby" is a laid-back country-rocker that recalls the early 1970s. "To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High)," cowritten with Ryan Adams, is a hootenanny stomp with a fiddle and mandolin leading the way. The record's centerpiece is "Method Acting/Cortez The Killer," which has Rawlings stitching together a meditative, minor-key reading of Bright Eyes and a breathtaking cover of Neil Young.

It's perhaps deceptive to call A Friend of A Friend a debut, but he is indeed a first-time frontman, and he approaches the role with clear vision, excellent musicianship and a fantastic batch of songs. (Acony)

Dave Rawlings Machine - Bells of Harlem
And check out Dave Rawlings at Daytrotter.

And next up we have Charlotte Gainsbourg, from the Tucson Weekly:

Music about life's pains and sorrows is nothing new, but rarely is it presented so directly.

Largely shunning metaphor and other songwriting veils, Charlotte Gainsbourg delivers an album that unravels the fear, disorientation and panic she felt in suffering and recovering from a brain hemorrhage in 2007. From the album's title—the French term for an MRI machine—to its lyrics and general soundscape, that health scare permeates the entire recording.

On hand to guide the French actress and singer is Beck, who co-wrote the lyrics, wrote the music and produced the recording. It's impossible to know whether Beck and Gainsbourg are close musical kindred spirits, or whether Beck simply placed his creative energy at the core of the project, but in all but the vocals—which exchange his slacker drawl for Gainsbourg's breathy and subdued singing—this is a Beck album.

The haunting electric hum of the MRI machine itself is woven into the music on the title song, while the lyrics lean toward medical terms: "Leave my head demagnetized / Tell me where the trouble lies."

While there is an openness and piercing honesty to baring her experiences so directly, Gainsbourg's sincerity sometimes ends up yielding some clunkier lines, like, "Drill my brain all full of holes / and patch it up before it leaks," from "Master's Hands."

But when the album peaks—like on the album's first single, "Heaven Can Wait," and "Time of the Assassins"—it's certainly a trip, down another twisting side path of Beck Lane.

Make sure to check out the excellently weird video for "Heaven Can Wait":

And stream a KEXP performance here.

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