MUSIC REVIEWS: Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan, Raphael Saadiq, Blitzen Trapper, and Kristoffer Ragnstam
While former Belle and Sebastian vocalist Isobel Campbell technically gets top billing on Sunday at Devil Dirt, the record sounds like a Mark Lanegan solo project with her honeyed vocals soothing his gruffly maturing sandpaper croon.
In the first half, Lanegan recalls a legacy of seasoned wild men taming themselves in later, reflective years. At times, his voice quavers like Johnny Cash’s end-career recordings; at others, he lays it down smooth like Leonard Cohen at his ritziest: “Come on Over (Turn Me On) delivers sultry, slick Rat Pack grandiosity over “I’m Your Man”-worthy come-ons.
The second half of Sunday at Devil Dirt digs down to blues and folk roots, sounding remarkably American. On “Shotgun Blues,” Campbell’s barstool-Hope-Sandoval takes center stage over a dirty, shuffling slide guitar borrowed from the Missisissippi Delta, while “Keep Me in Mind, Sweetheart” is a softly down-home duet straight out of Real America with nary a whiff of Commie America’s irony.
While the album may occasionally seem formulaic and, most glaringly on “Who Built the Road,” dangerously close to Nick Cave’s collaborations with Kylie Minogue and PJ Harvey, the artists’ reverence toward the musical traditions they embrace create an ultimately heartfelt and rewarding result.
The hot sound in music today is “1960s Motown”…? Sounds almost like an oxymoron. But turn on the radio and you hear it clearly in the music of today’s young artists. And you’ll also hear it on Raphael Saadiq’s fourth solo effort The Way I See It. The former member of the R&B groups Tony! Toni! Toné! and Lucy Pearl is definitely not a stranger to that sound. Anyone who is a fan of this singer/songwriter will give you a long list of influences heard in his body of work: Curtis Mayfield, The Temptations, etc. And to have the opportunity to pay homage to these legends on a single album: priceless. On “Love That Girl” and “Sure Hope You Mean It,” it is clear that Saadiq has great love and respect for the Motown sound. With its lo-fi quality, horn sections, tambourines, and rhythmic electric bass, The Way I See It gives you the feeling that you are listening to an old 45 rather than a CD (or mp3 file). Even Saadiq’s songwriting on this album is a tribute to another key aspect of Motown’s legacy, “The KISS Principle” (Keep It Short & Simple), especially since most of the songs are no longer than four minutes. On “Big Easy (featuring The Infamous Young Spodie & The Rebirth Brass Band),” Saadiq explores the harsh reality of Hurricane Katrina, while “Just One Kiss (featuring Joss Stone)” is a wonderfully modern tribute to the classic Motown duo Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. Raphael Saadiq has produced for many different artists (including Joss Stone and D’Angelo) and for this eclectic artist to forgo variety and focus on one signature sound, The Way I See It will be appreciated by young and old fans alike.
With their fourth album Furr, the Portland-based sextet Blitzen Trapper builds on its junkyard electronic indie folk rocker sound that is part Beck, Tom Petty, and Wilco. Officially together since 2000, the band’s music conjures images of farmers and hunters jamming together on a spaceship, with instruments ranging from pianos, lo-fi drums, and voiced-over/synthesized harmonies. Blitzen Trapper’s sound is largely credited to Eric Early, who wrote and produced much of the album in addition to performing guitar and lead vocals. Themes of nature and god reverberate through Furr, and the song writing does not seem to follow any distinguishable or traditional patterns of hooks and bridges. The album’s faster songs like “Saturday Nite” generally require several listens in order to adjust to all of the polished but sometimes chaotic mish mash, but the strength of the album is its slower folk ballads like “Black River Killer,” which have instant appeal and make up more than half of the album. The title track “Furr” is probably the albums best song– a very simple ballad that actually has produced animal noises in the background. Overall, the album gradually gets better with every listen, and is one worth owning if you have the patience.
Eclectic, relevant, and modern are the adjectives that come to mind when listening to Swedish musician Kristoffer Ragnstam’s new album Wrong Side Of The Room. The songs have a wry intelligence and the sound is a terrific blend of classic rock, electronica, and modern indie. Kris proves himself as an important up and coming artist with a number of excellent tracks such as the funky “Disco Fiasco,” “2008,” and “Swing That Tambourine,” which is a hit song waiting to happen. The album showcases tight, innovative musicianship paired with fun and relatable lyrics forming some classic songs. The album is really well-constructed with up-tempo pieces counterbalanced with softer acoustic works and the songs really grow on you with each listen. Tracks such as “Sorry For Being The Man Of 1000 Questions” show a varied approach with fast paced spoken words leading to a chorus that is sung more traditionally. Kris’s beginnings as a drummer can be heard in the offbeat melodies that grab the listener’s attention. There are some more experimental tracks on the album such as the title track that don’t really hit the mark but with a wealth of truly great songs, it’s a must listen for any music lover. It’s just a matter of time until some big company grabs one of these songs for a big commercial and everyone begins to notice it.