MUSIC REVIEWS: Naomi Shelton, The Vaselines, Gigantic Hand, Jarvis Cocker, Daniel Francis Doyle
Naomi Shelton & the Gospel Queens’ new one, What Have You Done, My Brother is pretty stark simple perfect modern gospel.
“What Is This” opens with the slow groove of Jimmy Hill’s organ and the band’s musical director Cliff Driver’s honky-tonk piano. “What More Can I Do” is a perfect little number song, more pop then gospel (though there’s a lot of asking God for answers). Only 2 songs in and you can hear not only Shelton’s obvious strength but her restraint, she knows exactly where to push and where to lay back and let a lyric fill out the impact.
“I’ll Take the Long” road features some tasty Tommy “TNT” Brenneck guitar playing, “What Have You Done?” is a tough cautionary tale with tight staccato drama, and “I Need You To Hold My Hand,” “Trouble In My Way,” and “Am I Asking Too Much” chunk, jive, and groove, with Shelton riding the train with her throaty hotness. “By Your Side” and “Lift My Burdons” feature Naomi and her female singers Sharon Jones, Judy Bennett, Jamie Kozyra, and Tamika Jones. The ladies are such a formidable solid team, they never once sound like a lead singer and just her backing vocalists.
And please, do yourself a favor, don’t listen to Shelton’s version of Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” unless you want your DNA altered…thank God it’s the last tune on this near perfect album.
You may be familiar with The Vaselines from the covers of their songs that Nirvana did. If you liked those and wanted to check out the original versions for yourself, now is the perfect time. Enter The Vaselines is a remastered collection of The Vaselines entire career output and it is sensational. The Vaselines are the epitome of late eighties indie/lo-fi pop-rock. All of the songs are catchy and upbeat yet slightly askew. The poppy chords are undercut with noisy fuzz and Frances McKee’s angelic voice delivers incredibly peculiar yet brilliant lyrics. When they play it light and folky you get great little charmers like “Molly’s Lips” and “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam.” Then, when they decide to turn up the volume, the songs are just as good. The best of these are “Teenage Superstars” and “Sex Sux (Amen)” which split the difference between Sonic Youth and The Pixies and show you how cool the Scottish can be.
The bonus disc is not completely necessary but it isn’t bad to have. Demos are rough by definition and the ones here are no exception. Some of the live stuff is quite good or at least interesting to listen to. I actually prefer these rougher versions of “You Think You’re a Man” and “Monsterpussy” to the studio recordings. On the live tracks you also get a chance to hear some of Eugene Kelly’s wry wit. Him introducing every song by the wrong name actually doesn’t stop being funny. If the bonus material doesn’t do it for you it’s still worth picking this album up because of how good the main disc is. For fans of off-kilter lo-fi pop this is perfect music.
Local boys, Gigantic Hand, who hail from Brooklyn, have put out an intriguing album, sometimes epic sounding, and sometimes awkwardly discordant. While Permanent Skin has no super singles, it is a great album to have in your collection as a palette expander. Each song has a life of its own, and the album as a whole has quite a few unique guitar riffs. “SuAnne Big Crow” is quite a number, with angelic choir-like ranting and an insanely catchy melody. I actually accidentally sat listening to the album during a long subway ride, and it turned out to be the perfect lose-myself-in-my-head type of album. They bring in different instruments for specific songs, like trumpets in “Glass Son,” which gives it an oddly patriotic feel, and both trumpets and harmonicas in “Gangster Fun,” aiding a part-time bluesy feel and part-time epic love song, even though it doesn’t seem to be either of those at all. There are no super highs, but no intense lows either, and in general, Gigantic Hand’s sound is reminiscent somewhat to Modest Mouse. Permanent Skin is relaxing without being boring, and is definitely different from most music out there. Gigantic Hand also keeps it unpretentious, which I found to be a breath of fresh air. The album works, and I can only assume that they will be doing greater things in the future.
This is solo album number two for Jarvis Cocker. He’s 45 years old and his glory days as the singer of Pulp are long gone. So what has changed? Well, not much actually. Jarvis’ voice shows slight signs of age but his signature croon is still in tact. The extra experience in his voice makes it often resemble that of later-day David Bowie (and occasionally Dr. Frank-N-Furter). It’s also good to see that he hasn’t outgrown his sex drive or his wicked sense of humor. “I Never Said I Was Deep” and “Fuckingsong” display both of these. The former is a hilarious admission of loose-moral guilt thinly disguised as a torch-ballad. The latter is an attempt to aurally pleasure the object of his lust (Sample lyrics: “Let it penetrate your consciousness,” “Every time you play it I will perform the best I can”).
There are some missteps however. The Blaxploitation theme sounding “You’re in my Eyes (Discosong)” starts off well enough but it could have been half as long. Surely “Pilchard” wasn’t necessary either. Still most of the songs here are pretty good. The problem is that nothing is great. There are no standout future pop hits here. It’s in that way that his solo work differs from the music Jarvis was making in Pulp. I suppose we can’t expect the magic of Pulp to stick around forever though. We should just be glad we still have access to the talents of Mr. Cocker and that we’re still getting to hear lines like, “I heard you were hung like a white man.” Who else but Jarvis?
Daniel Francis Doyle sounds like a member of the chess team doesn’t he? With a range of obvious influences, from childhood pots and pans music, and dirty teenage noise, (and you can even hear a little bit of Clash in some songs), this album is pretty much unclassifiable. Many of the lyrics are shouted, rather than sung, over the psychotic mish-mash of instrumentation. There are delicate pieces intertwined with raging chaos, such as “Send You Away,” which is mostly soft strings and hypnotic vocals (with some very odd lyric choices), and “Your Baby is Speaking,” which is really just kind of a sweet lullaby. I was sent to another world for a brief period, lost in a hazy love-memory. Several of the songs are also notable because of the apparent lack of any cohesion. The first two, “Old Lives,” and “Street Stress,” are both pretty insane, somehow forming a complete song from ten different parts that most people would never combine. But the really great thing about the album is that it’s not overly produced. It still sounds honest and dirty, like Mr. Doyle made it in his garage between studying for calculus and physics. The guy seems like a complete nutball, but the kind of nutball you would want at a party because he’s probably going to drink everyone under the table. After he somehow makes music using your toaster of course. We Bet Our Money On You is thoroughly strange, but addicting. You don’t dance to it as much as sit in awe of how, by the last song, you are still listening, and enjoying it. This guy is a triple fried egg, chili chutney sandwich, and for those of you who don’t get the reference, look it up. I think you’ll agree.