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MUSIC REVIEW: Smokin' Hot August Recommendations

CDS WE which we cozy up to and share music that has struck our eardrums.

Various Artists (Bear Family): SMOKE THAT CIGARETTE

Smoke That Cigarette album coverIn the first week of August, the Clean Air on Campus Act, which bans smoking at all Arkansas universities, went live. No longer will designated smoking areas be permitted at schools, not even a glass cage like you see at the airport. (There's something about sinners being encased in a glass cage that we find very comforting.) In the same week, Bear Family Records happened to release SMOKE THAT CIGARETTE, a collection of songs about smoking from the 1940s and '50s. The collection ends, inevitably, with Tex Williams's epic "Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette)"—of course, Tex's song keeps sounding fresh no matter how many times you've heard it. Before Tex, though, you hear a head-spinning range of songs that will likely be new to you and will likely please you to no end. Bear Family is an American treasure—even though it's located in Germany and the lead compiler for this particular release is a Canadian. Bear Family specializes in releasing comprehensive box-sets of important American recording artists (important but often obscure). It's accepted by many music aficionados that you can't beat, for definitiveness, a Bear Family box-set. But this compilation shows that Bear Family can also rely on their good taste, their far-reaching knowledge, and their terrific collaborators to put out kick-butt party mixes. Danke schön! (Bear Family Records, 2010) —MAS

Hear this! "Smoke Rings" by Les Paul and Mary Ford

Hear this! "One Cup Of Coffee And A Cigarette" by Glen Glenn



Cheyenne Mize with Bonnie “Prince” Billy: AMONG THE GOLD

Among the Gold album coverThe tender harmonies of Cheyenne Mize and Bonnie “Prince” Billy meld so naturally it’s like they were born as lovers (they’re not). This EP of their renderings of nineteenth-century parlor music, simply put, is a bundle of lullabies. You know these songs—“Beautiful Dreamer,” or “Let Me Call You Sweetheart”—but not with the youthful earnestness of Mize’s soprano behind them. The latter offers a call-and-response whistle-and-coo solo, with Mize’s lilts as intoxicating as (forgive the comparison) a Disney princess, but she’s obviously a living version of whatever that is. Oldham fans: Yes, he’s taking a supportive role in this turn, but without his intimate voice, the warmth of the EP simply would not be. Uneven vocals lend an imperfection that feels homey and real, like you are attending some private parlor of a bygone time, but even then, maybe you're not supposed to be in the room. (self-released, 2009) —NE

Download the EP here, free of charge, courtesy of Cheyenne Mize.

Hear this! "Let Me Call You Sweetheart" by Cheyenne Mize and Bonne "Prince" Billy




Brass Bed album coverOn their Park the Van debut, Brass Bed showcase a muscular song-craft that delivers a square gut-punch to indie-rock pedestrianism. MELT WHITE, whose title sounds more like an image-poem than a rock & roll album, fuses shimmering balladry, jangly psychedelia, and orchestral pop into a curious set that suffers no fillers. "God Save the Thieves," with its gentle inflections and percussive flourishes, saunters to the rhythms of diurnal melancholy. "Bums on the Radio" gives a cheeky nod to the shambling music industry with calliope squeals, flatulent kazoo noises, and acid-rain guitar distortion. And "Pop Mission," a take-no-prisoners rock-out, shakes and rattles with the contagion of adolescent fandom—a feeling the album will leave you with. (Park the Van, 2010) —BS


Hear this! "Pop Mission" by Brass Bed




Grandma's Roadhouse album coverGRANDMA'S ROADHOUSE is a time capsule back to the golden days of hippy-honed '70s country-rock, with whiskey-slick handle-bar mustaches, big-rig amplifiers, and stratospheric three-part harmonies to boot. Think Neil Young–era Buffalo Springfield, Gram Parsons–era The Byrds, Bobby Charles's solo recordings with The Band: Riley, a rowdy bar band, found a cosmic groove with the addition of heart-tremor cowboy-crooner Gary Stewart. In "Field of Green," a reefer-romance torch song, the guitar shreds through the mellow harmonies like the first streaks of light after an all-night party. Re-released for the first time in over forty years, GRANDMA'S ROADHOUSE, downhome and dingy, is a storeroom of lost gems. (Delmore Recordings, 2010) —BS


Hear This! "Field of Green" by Riley




Roland White album coverString-smith Roland White has been keeping bluegrass alive for the better part of his seventy-two years, and now Tompkins Square is returning the favor with their reissue of his 1976 album I WASN'T BORN TO ROCK'N ROLL. While he might not have been born to rock, Roland began playing music not long thereafter with his brother Clarence White (famously of The Byrds). Roland's clean, lightning-fury mando-picking has become a staple of country and bluegrass, from the Kentucky Colonels to The Nashville Bluegrass Band, and the album, a fierce statement about his old-time leanings, captures the youthful exuberance and skilled ease he brings to traditional music. (Tompkins Square, 2010) —BS


Hear this! "I Saw Your Face In The Moon" by Roland White




Unheard Ofs and Forgetten Abouts album coverWhile some record collectors are drawn to vinyl's gritty sound, others (including Frank Fairfield, musician, 78-junkie, and lover of all things old and weird) are drawn to the medium as a historical archive. UNHEARD OFS & FORGOTTEN ABOUTS, an un-comprehensive, unrelated, and yet no less impressive compilation, preserves Frank Fairfield's rare finds for posterity's sake. From Japanese Yagi-bushi dance songs to psychedelic Kenyan tunes, from Sudanese minstrelsy to eastern Orthodox liturgical chants, the album is an international-oddities mixtape for a basement party, that while not well attended, will nevertheless surprise. (Tompkins Square, 2010) —BS


Hear this! "Pius Ogola" by Akumu Odhiambo




Noun album coverReleased last month from Don Giovanni Records, comes unapologetic-vocalist and guitar-annihilator Marissa Paternoster’s debut solo album, HOLY HELL. The album’s ten tracks are part power-jam (“Outerspace”), part grudge-pop (“So Rough”), and, at times, a full-on punk explosion (“Brother”), all bundled neatly under Paternoster’s four-letter title: Noun. Her lyrics dovetail vulnerability with fully wrought woman-angst: “I need you to return for good/Pull back the house by the roof,” Paternoster croons in the album’s title track. HOLY HELL is a departure from Paternoster’s work as front woman of Screaming Females; this album’s hard-edged sensitivity and (relatively) clean sound complements the singer’s emotive range and proves—in no more than thirty minutes—that plaid, torment, and black nail polish will forever remain a lively form of expression. (Don Giovanni Records, 2010) —CM

Hear this! "Holy Hell" by Noun



Kathryn Calder: ARE YOU MY MOTHER?

Are You My Mother? album coverKathryn Calder (most recent addition to The New Pornographers) recorded this debut album while caring for her terminally ill mother. And, true, there is a reflective and sorrowing note to Calder’s saintly voice that echoes her real-life pain. But she also sings with whimsy and joy, to craft a hopeful-yet-wizened tone: “Take a look at my heart, my friend,” she repeats with an open honesty that simultaneously induces grief and celebration. “Are You My Mother?” is as musically innovative as it is vocally rich: Kleenex boxes and filing cabinets were used as percussion instruments and fellow New Pornographers all-star musicians Neko Case, Kurt Dahle, and Todd Fancey helped to accompany Calder’s own piano (among other instruments) and lyrics. But Calder’s catching personality is what stands out most in—and thus makes memorable—this plentiful album. (File Under Music, 2010) —CM

Hear this! "Arrow" by Kathryn Calder

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