The Fall of Rome
by Thomas Schulte
Outsight brings to light non-mainstream music, film, books, art, ideas and opinions.
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FALL OF ROME
Fall Of Rome Records (http://www.fallofrome.com/)
is a relatively new label, founded on April 1, 1999. It is a burgeoning new
home for garage, mod or other indie rock. Two new releases from the label include
Detroit rockers The Sights. Their album is Are You Green? It is a peppy
album based on ’60’s British rock with a punk attitude. Their energetic album
builds to a peak with the catchy-as-explosive "Hey Girl" and then
quickly chills out with the psychedelic title track. Another Detroit rock group
on the Fall Of Rome label is The Witches. Their garage rock is a large, booming
sound that brings to mind 24-hour factories and oversized cars. The group mastermind,
vocalist and guitarist Troy Gregory, has worked with an impressive array of talent
from Kim Fowley to Killing Joke and Andre Williams to The Swans.
New country sounds not found on the FM dial hold the interest of both the converted
and ears from the alt-rock, indie and singer-songwriter streams. On his indie
release Conversations; Nashville singer-songwriter Hunter Moore (Hunter
Moore, POB 121392, Nashville, TN, 37212; http://www.huntermoore.com/)
displays a poetic approach to lyrics and a sublime minimalism in his largely
acoustic arrangements. The Volebeats have been often lumped into this category,
though they strive more for affinity with classic Canadian pop. However, as
this piece is about blurring distinctions, let’s touch on their excellent new
release Mosquito Spiral (Third Gear Records, POB 1886, Royal Oak, MI
48068). To ears raised on pop and rock there will be something rural about these
unpretentious songs that achieve so much success through delicate harmony vocals
and acoustic arrangements. The Volebeats transform each simple theme of lost
love, nostalgia and more into heart-inscribing sonic memorabilia that could be
the unforgettable piece playing during the credits of that worldview-changing
film of character transformation you saw last summer. The harder stuff to be
found here can be heard on the excellent Checkered Past label (855 W. Roscoe,
Chicago, IL 60657; www.checkeredpast.com).
The Silos have the same reaction to American country music as did The Rolling
Stones. Indeed, "Satisfied" could be a homegrown answer to "(I
Can’t Get No) Satisfaction." The album is Laser Beam Next Door (Checkered
Past). The trio gets help from additional vocalists and one organist on a track,
but while the high-tech lives next door, the group provides back-to-basics excellent
songs with a touch of twang over shuffling, energetic rhythms. The Ass Ponys
seem bent on confounding as much as entertaining. I’ve listened several times
to enigmatic and dark "Donald Sutherland," and still see no connection
to the actor. The song seems more a stoop-musing on the scene from Wild at
Heart where Harry Dean Stanton gets iced. The same can be said of other
tracks. Lohio (Checkered Past) is rock from the heartland with a wicked
grin. The Spanic Boys, however, are roots rockers with an 80’s rock rhythm section.
Their songs can leap from honky-tonk to rockabilly and back in under three minutes.
16 Horsepower, long critically acclaimed, slow down the pace of their tracks
for the full effect of the hip menace, ala Wall of Voodoo, to sink in. This
may be the only band that can make the accordion sound fearsome. If Birthday
Party came from the Appalachians, they would be 16 Horsepower. Their Checkered
Past release Hoarse is all live material, recorded in Denver and Paris,
and includes covers of the Gun Club’s "Fire Spirit" and "–Day
of the Lords" from Joy Division. Also displaying raw horsepower is Five
Horse Johnson on The No. 6 Dance (Small Stone Recordings; http://www.smallstone.com; http://www.fivehorsejohnson.com/).
Southern rock with hammer blows and moonshine bravado launches into the air
off this disc. Their heavy electric boogie is midway between Raging Slab and
ELECTRIC GUITARS, ELECTRIC WOMEN
A trio of recordings from electrified female musicians provides excellent listening.
Multi-instrumentalist Kate Simpkins plays guitar, bass, keyboards as well as
singing the words to the songs she wrote on Station (http://www.katesimpkins.com/).
The music is intelligent and poetic from this AAA, sophisticated, song-oriented
performer in the tradition of Paula Cole and Sara McLachlan. Speaking of Canadian
talent, Rita Chiarelli presents her bold, brassy blues-rock on another fine
solo album: Breakfast at Midnight (Northern Blues Music, www.northernblues.com).
The powerful vocalist presents a solid, rocking blues band steeped in Chicago
traditions. Vocalist Julie Adams is a talented singer-songwriter that also has
true ability to make a song her own. On Live, Vol. 2 (Gadfly; POB 5231,
Burlington, VT 05402; http://www.gadflyrecords.com/)
the Mountain Stage Band joins her for a follow-up recording of sophisticated
jazz-rock and folk-rock originals and covers. An impressive array of guest appearances
includes those made by Bruce Cockburn, Duke Robillard and more.
Die Form are early purveyors of the cold, industrial minimalism now know as
darkwave. Metropolis Records (POB 54307, Philadelphia, PA 19105; http://www.metropolis-records.com/)
recently released two Die Form albums from the early ’80’s that were previously
scarcely available. Die Puppe (1982) mixes the sexual and the sinister
in a way that bridges the gap between Kraftwerk and Christian Death. Bare and
cold, it reveals the moonlit skeleton supporting today’s crisp, noir electronica.
From the very stable production of Die Puppe, the group launched into
experimenting with the documenting of their sounds on Some Experiences With
Shock (1984), originally both releases being limited vinyl editions. Some
Experiences With Shock is a diptych. The first half, Survival & Determination,
is a primitive analog recording while Lacerations & Immolation offers
the then-latest in digital recording. All this variation of process is merely
academic, because the same electro-Gothic style gives the album consistency.
Delerium is creators of ethnotechno with deep, substantial rhythms. As if the
lineup changes were prologues to this release infused an opening dynamism,
most of the tracks feature a different guest artist. These include Mediaeval
Baebes, Lisa Gerrard, Sixpence None The Richer’s Leigh Nash and more. This album
is about the female voice and Delerium’s techno, the only exception being the
effeminate voice of Matthew Sweet on one track. The group’s sophisticated world
beat is a unique offering in contemporary electronica. (4)
The Duplex Planet Presents Ernie: The Songs of Ernest Noyes Brookings
Gadfly Records, POB 5231, Burlington, VT 05402
An impressive cavalcade of singer-songwriters and indie rock bands come together
on this disc celebrating the music of accidental songwriter Ernest Brookings.
This is the fifth collection put forward by producer and writer David Greenberger,
who discovered Brookings and prompted him to begin, at age 80, to put forth
a stream of hundreds of witty, insightful poems to the music community. Highlights
of the disc include Dave Alvin of The Blasters taking on a Johnny Cash mien
for "November" and Robyn Hitchcock brings his three decades of experience
to "Book." (4.5)
Too Wet to Plow
John Ned Shines, a.k.a Little Wolf, brought a strong, projecting voice with
a rich vibrato to the post-WW II blues scene. His acoustic guitar style and
simple beats drew a line straight back to Blind Lemon Jefferson. One has to
go back as far as Mance Lipscomb to find a Texas bluesman to boast a comparable
talent for the blues. This is a reissue of the 1978 album that is a powerful
and personal statement, the thick root common with other subterranean limbs
that gave life to Muddy Waters and the rock-n-roll-breeding Chicago blues sound.
The title of this album comes from the acronym mnemonic that schoolchildren of the
Great Lakes area employ to remember the names of all those bodies of fresh water.
Indeed, this album is the group’s homage to the "beautiful peninsula,"
but you need never have stepped foot in that state to appreciate these excellent
arrangements of multiple vocalists, strings, horns and other instrumentation.
Spacious, sunny and joyous like a Lake Superior view from an Isle Royale high
point, this album is a celebration of history and geography and the poetic interweaving
of those features into experience and emotion. H.O.M.E.S., Volume 1 is
an intriguing post-folk album of rich arrangements and vocal mosaics that make
us hope the group will apply their skills to each of the fifty states. (4.5)
Tara Jane O’Neil
In The Sun Lines
Quarterstick Records, POB 25342, Chicago, IL 60625
Simply recorded in a Louisville ballroom, In The Sun Lines echoes the
understated melancholy that is O’Neil’s style and the signature of the Louisville-Chicago
mood rockers she springs from: The Sonora Pine, Retsin and Rodan. Various guest
artists from that scene were brought without preparation into this personal
project of minimalism and melody. (3.5)
Matt Marque gives us brief, quirky pop songs with a delicate, homemade quality.
This bare production and simple presentation allows the mood of the song to
jump right through to the surface. The youth’s dry voice mixed with an elder’s
creaking is a unique, papery sound among singer-songwriters. Guests on the recording
include drummer Glenn Kotche (Simon Joyner, Lofty Pillars, Wilco) and Steve
Dorocke (Central Station) providing pedal steel. (3.5)
The innocent music box becomes a source of scintillating beauty in this strangely
beautiful recording from John Morton. Morton conjures a wide variety of tones
from the unassuming boxes for unexpected, angular melodies. By manipulating
the delicate mechanisms both manually and electronically, Morton creates an
otherworldly experience that echoes the disembodied, dream-like nature of distant,
childhood memories. (4.5)
This is an album of track remixes taken from the Short-Staffed at the Gene
Pool album. There is a general trip-hop feel to the funky remixes, providing
some style consistency among the diverse artists. Easy, chill-out tacks give
way to hard funk mixes, but the changes make sense so that the album is not
too uneven. Altered and Proud is a worthy apotheosis of this album into
modern, hip, midnight beat music by compelling studio wizards like Dot Allison,
Eli Janney (Girls Against Boys), Max Tundra, etc. (4)
Tuma’s tentative, uneven melodies plucked self-consciously from an electric
guitar are shy, revealing essays of fragile and honest art. The Souled American
guitarist’s largely instrumental pieces are of narcotic lethargy; relaxed almost
to dissolution. They have tide-like ebb and flow and the echoed melodies bear
the whispers of a lullaby. These tranquil tones are mellow moods from Morpheus.
Metropolis Records, POB 54307, Philadelphia, PA 19105
This is a 2-CD set of music taken from a live, acoustic set recorded November
30, 2000 at El Rey in Los Angeles. Much work went into making this a representative
musical experience; perhaps too much work. The audience cut-ins sound exaggerated,
planned and repeated as if extracted from a Beatles concert. However, getting
past that, one discovers a warm, intimate presentation of Murphy’s material.
Backed only by Hugh Marsh on electric violin and Peter DiStefano on electric
guitars, Murphy plays 12-string on fourteen of his own songs on disc one. Disc
two is given to three Bauhaus classics: "Who Killed Mr. Moonlight,"
"All We Ever Wanted" with a David J appearance and "Hope (Midnight
Proposal)." Disc two concludes the package with a cover of Elvis’ "Love
Me Tender." (4)
A Break From the Norm
DJ and producer Norman Cook has spent years crafting hip pieces largely by
accreting studio tricks around nuggets from ’70’s vinyl. This release is simply
Cook’s celebration of his source material. Rather than transforming anything
at all, he presents the entire unaltered tracks he has found so golden. Classic
rockers like The James Gang and Colosseum sit next to soul-funk vocalists like
Camille Yarbrough and Ellen McIlwaine on this excellent compendium. (4)
Cesaria Evora is the peerless jazz vocalist from Cape Verde. She is an Edith
Piaf with African touches. The dialect of Portuguese sung here sounds distinctly
French and transports us to a pre-World War II Parisian lounge. Evora chose
songs from Mario Lucio, Ti Goy, B. Leza and more to put together a mosaic looking
back on tougher days and celebrating a life that sees Evora take her music around
the globe. Bonnie Raitt duets with Evora on Crepuscular Solidao and elsewhere
Evora shares the vocals with Pedro Guerra, Chucho Valdes, Orquesta Aragon and
Caetano Veloso. (5)
Steve Kirk, POB 9727, Berkeley, CA 94709-0727
Steve Kirk is a long-standing Club Foot Orchestra member who also works in
creating music for commercial TV. On Pop he combines the refined approach
of a pop-rock scientist with the emancipating freedom of an avant-garde artist.
His results are never merely quirky, but instead captivating, sophisticated
and unexpected. These arrangements of horns and strings with extended instrumental
passages make for compelling and unique listening. (4)
This is the debut of a serial release due out seasonally; every four months.
Thus in tune with the environment, the album surveys the art of aural environmental
soundscapes. The selections are largely ambient, impressionistic pieces built
around a single motif. Steven Feld focuses on the rhythmic possibilities of
cicadas for "Keafo, Morning." Jean Roche offers a chorus of electronic
frogs on "Venzuelan Wonderfrogs." (3.5)
Purpose moved from being a leading professional blackjack player to becoming
an activist and founding the band Collective Vision. His solo career began in
1996 and brought him to this exquisite album containing material co-written
with Ellis Paul and string arrangements from the Turtle Island String Quartet.
We meet many travelers on this crooked, lonely road from president Rutherford
Hayes to the imperturbable and alluring landscape crosser "Mary Jane."
The excellent songs feature subtle banjo and the backing vocals of Dave Carter and
Tracy Grammer. (4.5)
Apocalypse Now Redux
The reissue by Miramax of a new, extended version of the film Apocalypse
Now necessitated a new soundtrack, and this is it. The film has 53 extra
minutes and the soundtrack, available for the first time on a single-CD, features
two additional tracks of original music from Carmine Coppola. The stunning effect
of this re-mastered music is a better match for the strange trip of the rock-n-roll
war that is the film’s odyssey. (4)
Tight Bro’s From Way Back When
Lend You a Hand
Kill Rock Stars, 120 NE State Ave., PMB 416, Olympia, WA 98501
Unrestrained, breaking-loose rock-n-roll of brash guitars, short, crisp leads
and feedback is what this rawk band is about. They ply their trade when most
rock acts express an ’80’s romanticism, but they drink from the same well as
70’s rock acts like Black Oak Arkansas on up to the first shouts at the devil
from Motley Crüe. This is the angry assault distilled from the heaviest of ’60’s
electric blues-rock. (3.5)
C.J. Chenier & The Red Hot Louisiana Band
Step it Up!
Step it Up! is another red hot, spicy jambalaya blend of Zydeco, R&B
and rock from one of Zydeco’s greatest living performers. This is a high-energy
album of smoking Louisiana dance music from a Zydeco accordion and powerful
lyric shouter. (2.5)
Matt Turner & John Harmon
Stellar Sound Productions
Matt Turner (cello) and John Harmon (piano and keyboards) turn in a wonderful
acoustic jazz album of originals and covers by Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman
and more. Matt Turner alternately attacks the cello with such verve we can hear
the rosin dust launch of the strings and then delicately with a high-pitched, elegant
violin-like passage. Harmon is reliable and sophisticated throughout with complex
and engaging melodies executed flawlessly and evenly. (4.5)
Elza, 540 W. Boston Post Rd, Box 198, Mamaroneck, NY 10543
Elza grew up traveling between a mother in South Carolina doing watercolors
and a father in Germany inclined to Classical music. She wound up with songs
full of vivid lyrics and tight pop melodies. She briefly went into operatic training
before returning to songwriting with greater technical ability. Her award-winning
talents make Elza a superlative album. (3.5)
American composer Ingram Marshall combines original elegiac orchestrations
and choral works in music for orchestra and tape on Kingdom Come. The
soul of these works, which contain East European influences, is musings upon
war-torn Bosnia, and churches in that area were used to record key portions.
Kronos Quartet records the third piece on this beautiful, sad triptych, Fog
Tropes II, a new version of one of the composer’s better-known works.
Midway, the composer uses electronics to transmute American hymns into new works
on the ethereal Hymnodic Delays. (4.5)
Paved Country is a song-oriented modern country ensemble led by two female
vocalists: Sarah Mendelsohn and Marjie Alonso. They write the songs and alternate
between lead and harmony vocals. Their songs on the different aspects of love
are beautiful and moving, featuring a wide range of acoustic guitar types and
varied instrumentation, including bass saxophone and pedal steel, on every track.
Elefant Records, POB 331, Las Rozas, 28230 Madrid, Spain
Elefant Records produces another compilation of charming, light indie Europop
taken mostly from Spain. There is something faintly vintage about the groups that Elefant compiles here, as if they are touched slightly by ’60’s teen rock. This
saccharine, DIY bubblegum music is dulcet songs of pure spun joy. (3.5)
Unitone Guitar Series: A Portrait for Strings
On this compilation, Unitone explores the subtle world of instrumental, acoustic
guitar pieces. The presence of guitarists like Bruce Gaitsch and Leonardo Amuendo
lend a Latin feel to the opening tracks, but it is largely masters from pop and
rock that set the tone throughout. Providing music unlike their amplified electric
sides, Rik Emmett and Steve Morse feature here. Tommy Emmanuel is also present
and Leni Stern lends a jazz touch to this varied collection of ear-opening surprises.
Appliance excels at drowsy electronic beat music that has much to do with the
slo-core inspired by the Velvet Underground. When, on "A Gentle Cycle
Revolution" the singer wants to sleep a "thousand years," we instantly
think of Velvet Underground’s "Venus In Furs." Imperial Metric
is an aural-electro-narcotic; an anti-urban balm to massage away cares and worries.
Blood Red Cherry
Jann Arden is a singing songwriter. She is a true songbird in the classic pop
sense. Minimal backing on this album, largely electro-beats, serves to bring
her voice and poetry directly to the surface. Listen to the production of Patsy
Cline and Anne Murray albums and you will hear that Arden is following a tested
formula of past divas. Each Arden pop-rock track aches with real, heartfelt
emotion on this petal-delicate release. (3.5)
If You Happy With You Need Do Nothing
The Beggars Group/XL Recordings
Alfie is an exquisite indie pop group focusing on superlative songwriting in
an era when angst and amplification prevail in the genre. Augmenting their rock
combo with a cello gives these hook-laden songs real panache. By putting the
guitar back in the arrangement, this group lets tight songwriting come to the
The music of John Lee Hooker, Lowell Fulson, Al Green and more show up on this
bold electric blues album from Motor City harp man James Montgomery. James began
singing and playing the blues in 1970 and learned to write his own blues tunes
as well. About half the album is made up of those. Just as the past masters
show up through song, so do contemporary instrument masters show up in the personnel.
James Cotton plays harmonica next to James on two tracks that also feature Duke
Robillard drummer Marty Richards playing trashcan. Richards goes for a tough,
primitive sound on most of the album. The rest of the rhythm section is David
Hull (Buddy Miles Express) on bass and Marc Copely proves eminently suitable
for guitar duties. (4)
Toronto’s Sons of Otis are stoner rock gods of a different shade. Eschewing
guitar flash, this power trio’s vocalist plays just enough six-strong to let
you know the instrument is there. His distorted, eerie howling is prominently
accompanied by the acoustic sludge of monster fuzz bass and slow-thunder drums.
Songs of Worship is the group’s third album and heaviest yet. Tony Jacome
of Shallow North Dakota takes on drumming duties in the studio for this release.
The album features glacial tempos, anvil-heavy sounds and effective, blunt primitiveness.
EZ Pour Spout
Don’t Shave the Feeling
Love Slave Records
EZ Pour Spout is a group consisting of such mad scientists of modern street
jazz as alto saxophonist Briggan Krauss (Sex Mob, DJ Logic), guitarist and trombonist
Curtis Hasselbring (Either/Orchestra, Jazz Passengers) and Jamie Saft (John
Zorn, Bobby Previte) on guitar and keyboards. EZ Pour Spout offers all rock
covers on this album, transforming such pieces as the theme to TV show The
A-Team and AC/DC’s anthem "Back in Black" into electro-jazz freak-outs.
The quintet offers sly wit and potent bombast in interpreting the material.
With a career that extends through the entire decade, The Del McCoury Band
is defining in ’90’s bluegrass. Their chops and consistent recorded quality
kept them at the top of the genre. They continue to make good on that promise
here with a country bluegrass sound that was tough enough to merge with Steve
Earle on The Mountain and reach back to old-timey and gospel roots. (4)