Filed under: album, back issues, review | Tags: alan pedder, dana immanuel, denise james, endre buzogany, gary munday, gem nethersole, janis joplin, jewel, jo mango, joan as police woman, joan jett, jodi jett, juliette and the licks, leela james, marc soucy, russell barker, toni james, trevor raggatt
The following reviews were all published on our old website between May 2005 and December 2006.
Lovers of the ’60s girl group phenomenon are having a vintage year, what with The Pipettes and The Schla-la-las doing their best to revive the genre in populist fashion, and relative veteran Denise James isn’t prepared to miss out on the action. Her third album, Promises, practically oozes the sweet aroma of a soda fountain and is probably best listened to whilst wearing a mini-skirt, even the boys! Put this on your MP3 player the next time you go trawling through vintage clothing outlets and you’ll be sure to find the perfect outfit. James effortlessly captures the balance between happiness and tragedy that came to define the era, so that when she asks “what happened to the love we knew / don’t tell me we are through”, it’s not just words, it’s backed by a gorgeous rock guitar solo and near-maniacal violin that makes heartbreak seem like an afterthought. Likewise, ‘It’s Never What You Say’ opens with the words “love is gone”, but come the chorus you’ll be smiling ear to ear from the sheer infectious parping of the trumpets.
Even the gloomier songs, such as ‘Promises’ and ‘A Word To Say To You’, still ring with the sound of jolly tambourines that make them more like tears on a pillow than tainted love. Not that these songs are any less sincere or moving because of their joyful nods to the genre; ‘Go Ahead & Change Your Mind’ resonates with emotion with its central message that “time only brings an emptiness to everything”. Indeed, James’s wonderfully stylised approach makes these soul-baring songs seem wounded and resigned despite some of them having vitriolic lyrics that any metal band would be proud of, particularly on the commanding ‘Get Out’.
To her credit, James has effectively created a portal to the past; Promises truly does sound as though it were recorded and produced in the studios of days long gone. It’s authentic yet modern and, most importantly, perfectly addictive. Just as the ‘real’ songs of the ‘60s preferred the beach to the boardroom, James voices the same freewheeling attitude in ‘Let’s Take The Day Off’, a song so lovingly stuffed with life-affirming sentiments that it would have even the most staunch capitalist disposing of their suit and grabbing a surfboard. Alternatively, they might just go home and have a slow, sad waltz on the porch to the strains of ‘There’s A Light On’. Whatever the mood of the song, James has nailed her own form of time travel, one that will erase any modern day worries in blissful three-minute bursts.
That James has painstakingly constructed an album that’s so historically aware and beautifully produced is a real achievement in itself. When coupled with such memorable songs and her inspirational delivery, Promises may well go down in the annals of pop as her finest work. Although it’s oh so commercially viable in the current musical climate, it’s hard to escape the nagging feeling that James will be somewhat overshadowed by her more boisterous peers, but wherever she goes from here it’s bound to sound pretty special.
originally published August 23rd, 2006
A Change Is Gonna Come ••••
I stole this album. I didn’t mean to, it’s not even really the kind of thing that usually does it for me. It looks pretty unassuming – girl on the front, big hair, she looks like a lot of other girls who turn out not to be very good. This one turns out good though. Her old-fashioned brand of soul is well worth the thievery stain on mine, which is not, of course, to condone or encourage that kind of bad behaviour. I’m just saying…
It’s a dangerous thing, calling the first song on your album ‘Music’ and then name-checking Aretha Franklin and Chaka Khan before the chorus even kicks in, and she probably wouldn’t get away with it if she were a bit less good. Lucky for Leela James that her voice is unremittingly extraordinary. Smooth as a James Bond chat-up line and emotional as a wounded animal, gritty and rich in all the right places. Like a really good cup of coffee.
They picked ‘Music’ along with cheery tune ‘Good Time’ as singles, but to me it’s the angrier, darker numbers ‘Ghetto’ (with Wyclef Jean) and ‘Didn’t I’ (with Kanye West) that suit her best and really stand out. She just sings it like she means it, and she has the kind of voice – technically spectacular and coming from somewhere a little bit deeper in her chest than your regular starlet – that can properly pull off lines like “low down dirty”. Not many people can do that in a serious manner, but Leela drips just the right kind of bluesy back porch sincerity. Ain’t nothing like the truth.
As an album, A Change Is Gonna Come probably misses out on real greatness, but only narrowly. A few of the songs are not, I suspect, very good under the fancy production. Don’t get me wrong, they’re still great to listen to because Leela James sings on them, but if you’re a sucker for a big chorus you’ll probably find yourself skipping through quite a few tracks. On the other hand, some of the songs are just great to dance to, and screw the chorus – ‘Rain’, for instance, has a guitar hook hooky enough that you don’t really care that no-one could be bothered writing a vocal melody worthy of it.
The songs are interspersed with little acoustic country blues and gospel interludes that sound like fried chicken and the ghost of Leadbelly, wonderful in themselves and also providing a counterpoint to ‘60s-soaked soul numbers like ‘Prayer’ and the title track, a cover of Sam Cooke’s 1964 hit that is well delivered, if a little uninspired. Thrown into the mix, too, are a few real curiosities like a delightfully unexpected cover of No Doubt’s ‘Don’t Speak’ that pisses all over the original. It’s like she’s squashed about a hundred years’ worth of American music into one album, and so perhaps it’s not surprising that in many ways this is an album full of clichés – there are some very standard lyrics, R&B sprinkles on more than one track, and she does thank Jesus and her parents in that order on the sleeve notes.
A lot of good things are being thrown together on A Change Is Gonna Come, but innovative it is not. However, in the same way that rigid metrical form can in the right hands produce the best poetry, the kinds of traditions that Leela James is tapping into provide a platform that really works to showcase her talents. An ungenerous critic might say that it is an album unsure of what it wants to be, but then again, it’s pleasing that albums are still being made that really do defy petty pigeonholing.
originally published September 27th, 2005
I’m Here, Where Are You? EP ••
Toni James’s story is nothing if not inspirational. It’s a tale of rising above a difficult family life and unwise, abusive relationships to follow her dream of making it as a soul singer. The 28 year old Liverpudlian has certainly paid her dues, not only as a graduate of the school of hard knocks but also in “the business”. A veteran of the cruise ship, lounge bar and jazz standard circuit, she’s now stepping out in her own right with that particular nu-soul style that seems to be making headway in the charts these days. But while her bio may be inspiring, the music is rather less so. There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with it, it just lacks the necessary lustre to make a real impression.
Kicking off with ‘Fate Street’, a gospel-lite number about finding Mr. Right, it’s clear that James has a decent range and a pleasant tone, both of which are tastefully employed. Whilst her pipes are not the richest around, she avoids the nasality and shrillness that’s rife among the genre, and indeed she should be roundly praised for, gasp!, singing a note as if it were a note, not the sound of a bluebird having a seizure. Why such unfocused and poorly controlled vocal riffing is de rigueur these days is a mystery to me and it continues to mar so many urban ‘soul’ records. The song itself does its job efficiently enough with all the right amounts of bluesy piano, B3 Hammond and backing vocals thrown in to the mix.
‘He’s Too Good To Share’ is a competent urban workout that manages to be neither funky enough to mine the acid jazz furrow propped up by Incognito nor urban enough to stand shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Alicia Keys. In particular, the backbeat handclaps seem rather synthetic and mechanical, sapping the usual joy right out. Elsewhere, ‘Please Don’t Wake Me’ provides the flipside to Oleta Adams’s torchy ‘Get Here’, exploring the darker reality of enforced separation – the harsh truth being that sometimes the temporary bliss of sleep is preferable to facing the cruel waking world.
Final number ‘Is It?’ isn’t much to get excited over either. Monotonous in the sense of not being boring but rather lacking in dynamics, James was clearly aiming for a sparser R&B feel but doesn’t quite possess enough groove to carry it off. A bit of a curate’s egg then, and whether the forthcoming album (due out later this year) will offer anything new is the burning question. There’s promise here, but it’s never fully realised. However, in a musical climate where the public has taken the soul-lite sounds of Joss Stone and Corinne Bailey Rae to their hearts, and with the publicity power of Sandi Thom’s people behind her, don’t write this one off just yet.
originally published June 24th, 2006
Joan Jett & The Blackhearts
With the big, clap yo’ hands feel of politico-ripper ‘Riddles’, you’re plunged straight into the true heart of Sinner, the first Joan Jett & The Blackhearts album in over a decade. The chugging, cheesy ‘80s guitars sound like a biker’s wet dream, while the admittedly catchy chorus shows that Jett can still be devilishly aware of what makes a line memorable. This all hints as a return to fun-sounding rock songs, but what makes Jett’s new work so compelling is that each track holds enough of a message to be taken seriously (for the opener this is the awareness and very real worries of political morons, the lack of political awareness in the U.S. and the world and Big Brother watching evermore). With this and the timely use of some great Bush and Rumsfeld speech samples, you’ll get the gist pretty quickly and realise that Sinner really isn’t just another rock clown acting out, but instead tries to voice items on a meaningful agenda.
This brash retro heart is a recurring theme of the album – though Jett would surely take umbrage if you called it ‘retro’ to her face – where big band rock ‘n’ roll is pounded out ‘til fingers are shaking and knuckles are bleeding. By exploring the well travelled slopes of the ‘rock anthem’, Jett succeeds in reminding of how she herself has been such a secretly domineering and influential artist. For example, ‘Everyone Knows’ is a sort of template for latter-day Weezer and anyone else that isn’t afraid of touching on something that is unashamedly good for the soul. Fists are raised to the skies and their owners are wearing ripped, black band t-shirts; the lack of a smirk or wry smile is unnerving. This is serious, folks! Meanwhile, ‘Change The World’ reeks of early Distillers and other feelgood, boppy punk rockers, but clearly Joan came first. However rearward-looking it may be, Sinner really hammers it home that there really are a great number of acts who’ve trodden on the toes of this female figurehead.
Of course, with such a well rehearsed basis for compositions, there are bound to be some potholes, bumps and areas that are unwise to venture into. ‘A 100 Ft Away’ and the truly terrible ‘Watersign’ take the foot off of the proverbial pedal and sink into the bogs that were once the battleground of the stadium pomp- rockers. And good riddance, really; there’s no need for that egotistical guitar crap. On a similarly slippery footing, ‘Bad Time’ steals part of a typical descending guitar riff used by late-era Iggy & The Stooges (have a listen to the stuff on Skull Ring and you’ll notice the likeness). Here, Jett and her band once again walk the perilous plank and stand there wobbling, threatening to teeter over into pointlessness.
Elsewhere, they’re rescued by ‘Fetish’, a notably decent stab at the heart. Getting downright dirty, sleazy, greasy and easy, Jett shrieks and yelp with a pained, unrestrained glee, her gristly vocals tearing right through, projected by her metal larynx; it works because the song simply doesn’t give a fuck. It pumps, slides and grinds all over you, asserting its dominance before you can question this return to an old and somewhat dated sound. It thrusts you down and gets on with business, just as plain and simple rock music should.
Overall, Sinner is much like diving into the deep end, bombing right into a sea of sharks whilst covered in whale meat and wearing a big fat grin. There is no shame or fear here. The mainstream media’s pointed teeth will surely sense this overt carelessness and downright disregard for the songwriting no-nos of yesteryear, but the real problem is that there isn’t enough to get worked up about either way. As soon as you get used to the sound that was supposedly ‘lost’ many moons ago, you’ll find your concentration wandering. Sinner is undoubtedly worthy of a listen, but despite Jett’s obvious influence and her eagerness to be heard on a greater political level, it’s unlikely to make a notable mark amongst the unconverted.
originally published October 14th, 2006
Love Rock Records
First things first, Jodi Jett is no relation to archetypal rocker Joan, though the Kansas-born Manhattanite certainly knows how to make herself heard. Fielding comparisons with Liz Phair and even Tom Waits, her debut album Revelations is packed full of melodies unfurling in a drawl, slung out over songs in a nonchalant manner, where notes are occasionally dropped for spoken word. This is quietly swaggering, slightly staggering rock ‘n’ roll that’s been brawled with and bitten, a carcass of a sound. Here, the ethic of rock is kept for the hell of it, but the flesh is experimented with, pierced by forethought and poisoned emotion and then sometimes dropped altogether so the song goes back to a very basic band setup. With the first two tracks slithering by – sometimes malevolent, always absorbing – the desolation, regret and/or frank admittance in the lyrics (“when I said I loved you did you believe it?”) pushes the feeling of a gathering storm right to the fore.
Perking things up a little, the slightly more driving rhythms of ’80s Girl’ boasts emotional spillage and narrative mutterings crammed into a loose vocal framework, namedropping all sorts of memorabilia, culture and fashion. Eventually morphing into a form of homage for anthems of the time (see ‘Shout’ and ‘Like A Virgin’), the song is perhaps best taken as an ode to the things of the era. After all, the song itself is only really lifted out of it nothingness by borrowing from the subject matter itself – up until the tongue-in-cheek renditions of ’80s ‘classics’, there is no true vocal line. Elsewhere, the songs don’t really do anything new, but what’s there is done in ways that feel pretty good. With a leading drunk slide guitar lick, casual brushed drumming and tales of substitute love, it’ll be hard not to spark one up over Instead, even if you don’t smoke.
This is certainly an intriguing album, and a pretty strange one too. Jett has clearly seen the rulebook, observed it with a wry look, waited for the opportune moment and shredded it to the best of her ability. With a well-kempt type of guitar distortion, live studio drum production that’s basic, crisp and real, Revelations is as honest as you could ask for. It’s like the morning after, waking up in a forgotten hotel with an unnamed partner half-buried in the pillows. It’s the backbone of Jodi Jett, without spectacle or gloss, and an admirable thing to pull off.
originally published October 14th, 2006
Goodbye Alice In Wonderland •••
A success! The exorcism was a success! It seems that Alaskan singer-songwriter Jewel Kilcher is no longer in thrall to the same tormenting demon that resides in the likes of Britney Spears and other pop icons. While some may accept that the cause of these pop princesses’ inexplicably ridiculous and self-destructive antics is simply sheer idiocy, possession is the only explanation for Kilcher’s 2003 album, 0304. Need a reminder? 0304 was a shocking, neon-stained, soulsold-to-Lucifer, dance-pop disaster, trading in her folksy image and battered acoustic for hair extensions, a push-up bra and a choreographed entourage of hyperactive dancers. It was a long long way from the album that made her, 1995’s Pieces Of You, a sweetly naïve but soulfully honest collection that yielded several hits in her native US.
Now it’s 2006 and Jewel is back from through the looking glass with Goodbye Alice In Wonderland, her sixth album. With most of her tendencies for pop exhibitionism shaken off, Jewel has bidden farewell to more than just Alice and the Mad Hatter, but also to whatever she was drinking (or smoking) at that unhinged unbirthday shindig. Delivering a collection of songs either composed or played live over the last ten years, but never recorded, Kilcher gets closer to the Jewel that millions loved. Not quite all the way back to the Pieces Of You days, but following closely in the glossier tracks of 2001’s This Way.
Somewhere along the way, between This Way and the still folksy Spirit, Kilcher struck up a friendship (a love affair even!) with the recording studio and the make-you-break-you mainstream. Take a look at her career to date; of some seventeen singles released, twelve have been altered in some way for radio. Sadly, the passion hasn’t gone out of that relationship yet and the studio is very much a presence, despite initial rumours of a lo-fi approach following an acoustic tour. Fans who are looking for titles heard from these and earlier acoustic renditions won’t find those versions here. There’s a hint of acoustic sparkle, certainly, but make no mistake about it, this is beefed-up, polished product.
The title track is billed as her most personal to date but you’ll struggle to hear genuine feeling over the studio sheen that takes the song from simple acoustic beginning to its grossly overdone conclusion. Catchy lead single ‘Again & Again’ is smooth as silk, with a nicely done vocal riding over a steady drumbeat, and the same goes for the new up-tempo version of 0304‘s ‘Fragile Heart’ – a perfect example of the revision queen reworking a song for radio play. ‘Satellite’ makes a U-turn, straying away from the direction of the rest of the album. Though it retains a primarily country feel, the pervasive radio-friendly production mires the song in its own ghastly slickness. Perhaps it’s the aftershock of 0304; after all, what else can be expected from a woman who was formerly doing the devil’s bidding? That fact and a nod to Jewel’s impressive vocal range make this sour pop ditty almost excusable.
Goodbye Alice In Wonderland might be unnecessarily overburdened with beats and extras, drowning out the simplicity for which her earlier albums were so highly regarded, but at least it’s a sign that Kilcher is well on the way back. It may require a modicum of patience, but there’s a brilliant diamond lying in the rough (if you can consider this well-buffed album rough in the slightest) if you make it to the end. ‘1000 Miles Away’ is an astonishing gift; its minimalism, simple strumming and innocent vocal will pull you back to 1995. That’s right, it’s a piece of Pieces Of You. It’s a godsend; a ray of light. Refreshing and welcoming like she’s finally come home. It might be goodbye Alice, but it’s hello again to Jewel.
originally published June 16th, 2006
Joan As Police Woman
Joan As Police Woman EP •••½
With the release of her debut solo EP, it’s finally time for Joan Wasser to, to quote one of her own song titles, “stagger into the light”, assume centre stage and take the spotlight. For the past few years, she’s been an integral part of Rufus Wainwright’s touring band and also found time to play on Antony & The Johnsons’ I Am A Bird Now. In fact, Wasser has played with just about everyone who needed some quality violin and backing vocals. Meanwhile, she also found time to play in numerous bands of her own throughout the Nineties, before breaking out on her own in 2002, taking her name from the Seventies cop show, ‘Police Woman’, starring Burt Bacharach’s ex-wife Angie Dickinson.
Recent single ‘My Gurl’ starts things off and finds her sensitively singing about the world in stopped motion while the tune echoes the lyrics. Then, after a minute and a half, the song sparks into life; a nice bit of fuzz pedal here and there, a jazzy, populist mid-section there. The jazz element is so convincing that you can almost see the smoke in the air of a crowded club, while her sassy side recalls the much-maligned Sam Brown. Following that, ‘Prime Mover’, locks into a groove and moves with it, the song itself coupling a lo-fi reading with the mystery of Bowie.
It’s no happy accident that ‘Stagger Into The Light’ falls in the middle of the record; it’s by far the best track and a wonderful centrepiece. Of all the many comparisons that Wasser has attracted so far – Dusty Springfield, Nina Simone, even Prince – the most pertinent has to be Chrissie Hynde, and this is nowhere more apparent than on this particular song. The sultriness, the ice cool attitude, being in the ideal position where women want to be her and men want to be with her. All these qualities shine through brightly, and what’s more, Wasser manages to achieve this in a few mere moments – the tempting lead up to the chorus and the inviting, yet insistent lyric “listen to me”. By the time the final refrain comes around, she’s pared it down to a satisfied “euff”, confident that she’s reeled you in. And all the while the song has swayed and stopped, copped an attitude, and rolled back in again.
Just how do you follow that? Well, it’s a difficult ask and Wasser has gamely stepped up to the plate. OK, so the final songs on the EP aren’t as good, but they’re still mighty fine efforts. ‘Game Of Life’ sounds Middle Eastern, sashaying around a bit before resorting to some helpless yelping towards the end, while ‘How Come You’re So Solid Gold?’ is broodily hypnotic; its circular rhythms drawing you deeper and deeper into its black heart. This EP is a wonderful start to Joan’s solo career and promises plenty of interest for her forthcoming full-length, Real Life.
originally published March 7th, 2006
Paperclips & Sand •••½
Glasgow-based chanteuse Jo Mango and her band have been treading the boards of the circuit for three years, each time bringing a winsome and quirky brand of folk to the good burghers of the city and the surrounding regions. In many ways, it’s difficult to fully separate Jo Mango the band from Jo Mango the artist. While the latter pens the songs (and hers is certainly a distinctive and attractive voice), the contributions of her fellow musical travellers bolster her signature sound. Backed by twin brother Jim on bass, Simon Fullarton on guitars and Calum Scott on percussion and guitar, the folk formula seems to have been adhered to. However, adding in Alan Peacock’s engrossing background and harmony vocals, and Katherine Waumsley’s flute and harp to Jo’s own eclectic instrumentation, including concertina and even African thumb piano, and a much broader sonic canvas is immediately evident.
The haunting ‘My Lung’ provides a stark introduction; Mango’s delicate and childlike vocals pick out a hymn to the positive aspects of a dependence that’s closer to symbiosis than parasitism. ‘Tea Lights’ then sets out a more typical template for the album, with folksy guitar and vocals gradually accumulating other musical elements – a bit of glockenspiel here, a violin there – and these provide a gentle reflection and indeed an enhancement of the otherworldly lyrics. Peacock steps forward to share the mic on ‘Gomer’, as he and Mango swap verses like two lovers who are connected and yet lost to one another, culminating in a harmonious finale. The folksy mood continues elsewhere; ‘How I’d Be’ finds Mango’s musings on what might have been lifted up, up and away on well-placed harmonies, while ‘Waltz With Me’ is a wistful dance leavened by lilting flute and accordion.
After ‘Take Me Back’s traditional hard knock life storytelling balladry, which happily strays into Sandy Denny / Vashti Bunyan territory (but with a stronger and more assured vocal delivery than the latter), a more contemporary edge comes to the fore. In fact, ‘Hard Day’ could slot in nicely with Suzanne Vega’s early catalogue – and that’s no faint praise – while ‘Blue Light’ swells from a hesitant, contemplative opening into a dark and brooding psychodrama, blowing moody portents on winds of overdriven electric guitars. Finally, ‘Harlow 1959′ brings the album to a halting conclusion, mirroring the Vega-esque bedsit drama it describes.
Actually, it’s not exactly a conclusion; Mango has graciously tossed us a bonus track in the shape of ‘Portugese Skies’, a charming, idyllic song that neatly bookends with opener ‘My Lung’, wishing a true love a life where all is good and true. Although it first appeared on an early EP, it’s a worthy addition to the album, which is in itself a more than worthy introduction to Mango’s beautiful world. Here and there, the intangible essences of more maverick artists like Björk and Stína Nordenstam spiral just out of reach on the edges of perception as she deftly skirts the suburbs of folk with bucolic, dusky spirit.
originally published March 11th, 2006
Pearl: Legacy Edition •••••
This October marks the 35th anniversary of the day that Janis Joplin unintentionally took her own life in an LA motel room with a lethal heroin overdose. She was just 27 years old and on the cusp of what was shaping up to be the most rewarding time of her life. Since 1990, the Grammy-award winning Sony BMG subsidiary Legacy Recordings have been rewarding the patient with lovingly packaged and often essential “reimaginings” of some of the most beloved albums ever recorded. In Joplin’s case, there is no doubt that Pearl is the jewel in a distressingly small discography, and this long-awaited full Legacy Edition adds no fewer than six bonus tracks to the original album plus an additional live disc of 13 songs recorded during 1970’s Canadian Festival Express Tour. While some of these have previously been available on either the 1999 single-disc reissue of Pearl or the 2001 3CD boxset Janis, many are newly unearthed.
After two mostly bewildering albums recorded with the psychedelic Big Brother & The Holding Company in which the sheer sonic intensity threatened to overwhelm even her powerhouse vocals, Joplin formed the Kozmic Blues Band for a successful but patchy album before disbanding them, taking Brad Campbell and John Till with her and gathering around her a more sympathetic ensemble in Full Tilt Boogie. The results were astoundingly raw, focusing on her gritty and revitalising vocals more than ever before. Everyone has their favourite tracks, and with stone-cold classics like ‘Me & Bobby McGee’, ‘A Woman Left Lonely’, ‘Move Over’ and ‘Cry Baby’ to choose from, it’s no mean feat to elevate a single cut above the others. Even the sadly overexposed ‘Mercedes Benz’ still sounds fresh in its natural context, positively brimming with Joplin’s sense of humour.
Of the two instrumental tracks on the first disc, both are poignant reminders of our loss. The frantic keyboard wig out of ‘Buried Alive In The Blues’ only serves to remind that, had Joplin lived for just one more day, it would have been completed with vocals and all. The other, the gorgeous ‘Pearl’, is available here for the first time and is a touching tribute to Janis from her band, titled in honour of the nickname given to Joplin by those closest to her. Other bonus tracks worth mentioning are the endearingly banter-laden acoustic demo of ‘Me & Bobby McGee’ and a handclap happy version of ‘Move Over’.
The second disc collates recordings from three different live shows from the summer of 1970, including live versions of ‘Piece Of My Heart’, ‘Summertime’, ‘Try (Just A Little Bit Harder)’ and more. Every song is a spirited affair and is further testament to her powerful and ingratiating onstage persona. Contrary certainly, but she used her insecurities to propel a live show like few have done since. In my favourite Janis anecdote, it is said that when warned her voice would not sustain such repeated hammering, Joplin retorted that she’d rather not be an inferior performer for the sole reason that she could be inferior for longer. It’s this dedication to her art for which she should be most praised. No mere blues belter, Janis Joplin was an intelligent and vivid woman with unparalleled grit and commitment. Given the timelessness of Pearl as a document of sheer vitality, it’s maddening to think what she could have accomplished if only she’d had more time.
originally published June 28th, 2005
Juliette & The Licks
You’re Speaking My Language •••
Your mum will tell you that first impressions are important. So when Oscar-nominated Hollywood actress Juliette Lewis deigned to cover two untouchable Polly Harvey classics back in 1995, the prognosis for a long-term rock career was significantly worse than terminal. Ten years later, she’s back with a band and this time she’s not going away. Initial thoughts? Yeah, whatever. Join the back of the queue Ms. Lewis, right behind Driver, Gershon, Crowe and Reeves. Has the work dried up so badly that they all have to scramble for a gig in a dingy Camden pub? Do they too have to send their demo tapes to some longhair in Cornwall with an obscure record company and a few grand going wanting? I mean, how seriously do they think we’ll take them?
Well, in this case, you might want to prepare yourself to purge clean away those Tinseltown prejudices. Juliette Lewis is angry, but most of all she just simply rocks. After a somewhat naff intro and a “This one goes out to the entire world…” (sloganeering is so 1984), things get better. Much better. The title track and first single kicks some hefty ass. Musically, the overall feel of the album is perhaps best described as polite and digestible punk rock. Drums, guitars, bass, all very credible, though for some reason I can’t help humming Pearl Jam songs after the slow-burning ballad ‘Long Road Out Of Here’ closes out the record. Juliette’s vocals have just the right amount of rasp (probably from sucking on Bobby De Niro’s fingers in ‘Cape Fear’) to provide that extra authenticity to her strived-for rebel sound. She even rails against the politicians and frat boy mentality in ‘American Boy Vol 2′. It’s not exactly anarchy, but it seems at least genuine.
Overall then, You’re Speaking My Language is that rare occurrence of someone awaking from a long artistic coma. For those uninclined to be overly judgmental, there’s a surprising amount of pretty decent tunes, although nothing comes close to breaking new ground. Nevertheless, where Juliette & The Licks go next will at least be an interesting footnote in the annals of rock. For now though, be content with Hollywood’s finest musical export in a long long while.
originally published September 2nd, 2005
Juliette & The Licks
Four On The Floor •••
More than a fair few eyebrows were hitched hairline high when Juliette Lewis turned her back on her Hollywood career to have a stab at a true punk rock existence. And despite all the doubters she succeeded, her slow- building but respectable sales not because of her status but because of her commitment to relentless gigging and off-the-wall interviews. This semi-anticipated second album continues her progression along the path of rock ‘n’ roll righteousness with a very decent selection of tunes that ought to appeal to a whole range of listeners, from those think that might wear their leathers to bed to those who think Pink is the saviour of girl-rock.
Thankfully Lewis has ditched the sloganeering and faux- anger that weakened her debut, though in their place comes a new fixation with sex, sleaze and relationships. Then again, why should that surprise anyone when we’re talking about a woman who, as rumour has it, decided to forego much of her personal hygiene routine when on the road in order to have a full rock ‘n’ roll experience. That’s what it’s all about for Ms Lewis, but does Four On The Floor live up to its heritage?
Well, it pretty much spans the A to Z of rock if that’s what you’re after, nowhere more obviously so than on ‘Get Up’, a song that starts off as subdued AC/DC, rolls into the Stones and mercifully comes to a halt just before it reaches ZZ Top. Multi-project rocker Dave Grohl crops up for some drumming and raw guitar, lending the floorsome foursome some extra punch in the world of the alternative left and elevating the sound from something merely average to something really quite credible.
Overall, the songs are well composed, and not just because they’re only really long enough to excite for a short spell before moving on to the next one. It’s actually quite refreshing to hear something nowadays that isn’t dispassionate indie rock fungus. The mood varies throughout, arcing from I’llbreakyerfuckingneck rage anthems to ‘come on in, the water’s lovely’ pop picks. On first listen I took the trouble to note down all the images that sprang to mind, ending up with Mallory Knox being chased down the hills of the USofAustria by Georg Ritter von Trapp, dressed in rubber. Whether that says more about my mind than it does about the music is a rather moot point. Whatever, really. Put simply, if you prefer to use chilli oil instead of chocolate body paint, Four On The Floor is your kind of dinner party soundtrack, and another appealingly honest entry from someone who may yet surprise us all with a classic.
originally published December 17th, 2006
Filed under: back issues, feature, interrupting yr broadcast | Tags: 2006, emm gryner, hot one, interview, issue three, marc soucy, music