"Where else would you go when you have an ax to grind?"

Thursday, March 03, 2005

"Kelly Joe Phelps could not get get any cooler without moving to Antarctica. "

In your ear
Kevin Wood / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer

Jack Johnson
In Between Dreams
Universal, 2,548 yen
With his latest release, surfer-cum-filmmaker-cum-folk rocker Jack Johnson explores the joys of domesticity while broadening his musical palette.
In Between Dreams mixes rhythmic folky acoustic guitar-based songs with the occasional funky rocker like the scorching "Staple it Together" to offer up a relaxing, sunny package of tunes that linger in the listener's ear for days.
In Between Dreams showcases Johnson's gift for making the personal universal with playful love songs like the bouncy "Better Together" and "Banana Pancakes," a paean to waking up slow. His songwriting has always been strong, but the combination of strong hooks and laid-back grooves heard on this disc are proof he has hit his stride. His no-frills vocal style and chunky acoustic guitar provide a warm tone that runs throughout the whole album.
Johnson branches out musically here, using a wider variety of tempos than on previous CDs. His arrangements have become more subtle and complex, filling out the trio bare-bones sound with an accordion evoking French chanson on "Belle" and using piano for the first time on a few tracks. While his signature conversational folk-meets-rap cadences remain in place on songs such as "Better Together," Johnson belts out "Breakdown" and "Good People" like an old-time R&B singer and shows a hint of Nashville on the rootsy "Do You Remember."
In Between Dreams is a lazy, sun-drenched day at the beach.

Kelly Joe Phelps
Tap the Red Cane Whirlwind
Rykodisc, 2,414 yen
At the other end of the spectrum, the no-less brilliant Kelly Joe Phelps could not get get any cooler without moving to Antarctica.
Tap the Red Cane Whirlwind is a collection of solo live recordings from a series of California club dates last March that show a master slide guitarist, singer and songwriter at his peak.
Phelps' songs tend toward dark narratives about people on the margins of life, mining much the same vein as Tom Waits, but sounding nothing like him.
After starting his career as a jazz musician, Phelps rediscovered and reinvented for himself the blues. His lyrics are both evocative and mysterious, his singing understated yet powerful and his guitar work sparse and hypnotic. It's an intense package.
The songs on this disc are like a suibokuga ink painting in which the initial impression of spare simplicity gives way to endless subtle shadings that provide the work immense beauty and power. This album is not background music--it is lie-on-the-floor-with-the-lights-out music.
First-time listeners may find the opening 10-minute interpretation of Skip James' "Hard Time Killin' Floor Blues" a bit slow and meandering, but like good Scotch, Phelps is an acquired taste that packs a punch. A mailed fist in velvet glove clutching a rose. Spend a night home alone and listen to all the Phelps you can lay you hands on.

Citizen Cope
The Clarence Greenwood Recordings
BMG, 2,548 yen
Yet another highly original singer-songwriter, in this case with some serious studio production chops, Citizen Cope aka Clarence Greenwood's sophomore effort is an ambitious album that uses slow hip-hop beats to back a genre-blurring mix of blues, R&B, funk and pop. Citizen Cope delivers arty, poetic lyrics in a plaintive, rough-edged voice over broad-ranging arrangements that utilize stabbing horns, melodic piano and chunky guitar riffs.
The former Basehead hip-hop deejay sounds like a Bob Dylan or Bruce Springsteen born in 1977.
Copyright 2005 The Yomiuri Shimbun

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