Thursday, February 24, 2011


I've been pestering Ted Haycraft for years to write guest reviews for my music report. This time he came through, and boy did he ever! I decided to make his "Sound Bit(e)s" a separate entry. Ted and I worked for rival comic book stores in Evansville, Indiana in the '90s. Our friendship started in 1996 when he invited me to co-write a comic book column for News4U, the local free entertainment monthly. Ted also had regular columns reviewing music and movies for News4U, and is the movie reviewer for WFIE-14, the NBC affiliate in Evansville.

the party ain’t over – Wanda Jackson
This the latest example of a younger producer of note producing an older musician of note, like Rick Rubin/Johnny Cash, Jack White/Loretta Lynn, Jeff Tweedy/Mavis Staples. The Party Ain’t Over’s combo is White (again) and the 73-year-old Queen of Rockabilly - Wanda Jackson. I always find these types of team-ups fascinating and a lot of fun, and this one is no exception. White starts out the proceedings with a searing “Shakin’ All Over” and the ‘party’ pretty much stays in high gear until the last cut. Jackson still has a lot of spunk in her voice and appears to be having a blast with the song selection that White has come up with. Of special note is a fast and furious cover of Bob Dylan’s “Thunder on the Mountain”, specifically picked by Bob himself (he referred to her on his radio show as “an atomic fireball of a lady”). My only reservation about the album is Jack’s enthusiasm almost gets the better of him with the instrumentation (especially the brass section) being a little too much in your face. In fact my favorite cut is the last one a nice low key cover of Jimmie Rodger’s “Blue Yodel #6” which brings the ‘party’ to a nice pleasant ending.

MONDO AMORE – Nicole Atkins
I recall Atkins’ debut album, Neptune City, getting a lot of critical buzz on its release but I was a little underwhelmed when I sampled it and skipped on purchasing it. But when sampling her latest one, it made enough of an impression on me to take it home with me. The album is chock-full of dramatic pop ballads, for the most part, with a lot of poetic, metaphorical imagery that will have you coming back again to soak in its meaning. Over on a Paste Magazine review of this album, it notes that, since her first releaase, Atkins “broke up with her boyfriend, her band and Columbia Records." This insight really helps to pinpoint the meaning and explain the mood of this particular collection of songs. I may now have to go back to Neptune City and give it another try!?!!

BELLA – Teddy Thompson
Okay, let me say right off the bat this is a tremendous album (his 5th release) and really deserves a lot more attention than it will probably receive!!! Here’s one of those albums lined up with songs dealing with the ups and downs of looking for, holding on (way too long), breaking up and relating to the opposite sex. Thompson’s overall mood with these subjects is melancholy and severely introspective, but it’s all cloaked in infectious songwriting with nimble arrangements projected beautifully with Teddy’s mournful, Orbison-like melodious voice. The album kicks off with the feet-tapping “Looking for a Girl” which, if there was any justice in this world would get a ton of radio airplay! “Over and Over” is an amazingly insightful song about one getting through life and “The Next One” will strike a chord with anyone fresh out of a relationship that has ended. This album was produced by David Kahne (Tony Bennett, Paul McCartney, Regina Spektor…) and includes contributions from Teddy’s father, the overlooked and underappreciated Richard Thompson – go out and buy this album NOW!!!

The always intriguing, always evocative, always artistically evolving Polly Jean Harvey is back with a haunting and mesmerizing album that takes a penetrating look at her home country of England. Heavy themes abound, mainly focusing on the destructive force of war. Three of the songs specifically deal with the Gallipoli debacle of WWI. There’s no missing the intentions of Harvey’s viewpoint, but as usual her singing and musicianship – very beautifully stark and spare - pulls you in despite its downbeat feelings and messages. She herself in interviews has acknowledged how, with this album, she’s looking outward into the world as oppose to her usual inner musings. For my money, Harvey is one of a handful musicians that rewards constantly with each new album release due to her need for artistic challenges and changes.

MAGIC FACES – The Toddlers
The Toddlers are a local Evansville, Indiana band that I have followed pretty much since their beginning. They write their own songs, which of course is a nice diversion to the multitude of cover bands that populate my home town. Typically, their songs contain a mischievous tongue-in-cheek mode, with this new release being no different. Some of the subjects contained on this CD are: dropping kids off at a martial arts class, making the mistake of evoking the name of a dead person at the breakfast table, and being served lukewarm Kool-aid at Sunday morning church. They also can tone it down and be serious at times like with a melancholy ode to graduation day. Their sound is pretty unique which I liken to sort of a ‘60s vibe channeled through an ‘80s minimalist, DIY style (?!). Actually when seeing them play live, I also tend to see some Loudon Wainwright III characteristics permeating through them, especially when Eric Ridenour is singing! If you might be curious to check them out, their CD is available at or in Evansville at Joe’s Records and Abyssco.

Beefheart on the Brain
Speaking of PJ Harvey’s "Let England Shake," it turns out that Captain Beefheart was a big fan of the album. As you may recall, the great Captain (aka Don Van Vliet) passed away on December 17th. I was disappointed by the one page nod that Rolling Stone Magazine devoted to this very sad event. Actually, though, I figured they wouldn’t spend that much space to his passing and figured the UK music magazines that I follow, MOJO and UNCUT, would more than compensate for this oversight. And boy, did they deliver! The March issue of UNCUT devotes seven pages to him and the March issue of MOJO contains a ten-page tribute. The MOJO tribute includes a guide to key recordings, an amazing full page epitaph written by Jack White, and comments from PJ Harvey. Harvey would send him her albums before releasing them to get his take on them! Certainly Captain Beefheart can be a very acquired taste, but if one is serious about rock and roll music and all of its vast tributaries, then you’ll have to confront the good Captain at some point. These two articles are an excellent starting point.

Bob Dylan at the Grammys
I hope none of you missed Bob Dylan’s wonderful, bouncy performance of “Maggie’s Farm” at this year’s Grammy telecast. He was backed by a phalanx of musicians consisting of his own road band, Mumford & Sons and The Avett Brothers. This whole thing of him standing stage front with only a harmonica & microphone in hand is something he’s been doing a lot more recently, and seems to be a rejuvenating factor on his Never Ending Tour. I’m just glad he didn’t trip over that bass fiddle that was laying directly in his path when he came out from behind the curtains!!!

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