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

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

In yer ear
Kevin Wood / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer
The Greatest
P-Vine, 2,415 yen

The latest from the enigmatic and dramatic Chan Marshall shows the singer-songwriter moving forward into the past artistically, with The Greatest taking some cues from classic Memphis soul.
Marshall is backed here by longtime Al Green guitarist "Teenie" Hodges and a host of Memphis studio aces. While the somber title track and several others, notably "Willie" and "Where is My Love" could easily have come from previous Cat Power albums, others such as "Could We" and the catchy "Living Proof" kick up the power and the tempo a notch with the aid of funky strings and Stax-Volt style horns.
While the Memphis soul trappings are a slight departure, the songs are pure Cat Power--built on slow, simple, repetitive progressions and packing an emotional wallop. Another constant is Marshall's unmistakable voice. Equal parts plaintive, dreamy, soulful and sweet, Marshall has sufficient power to launch a song into the heavens, with just enough earthy huskiness to keep her feet on the ground. Her songs are intimate and raw without ever being rough; textured and polished without a hint of slickness.

Kicking Television
Warner Music 3,570 yen
Wilco manage to capture the mercurial spark of the their previous two studio outings, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost is Born, on this two-disc 23-track live album recorded last year in Chicago. A few other, older songs, such as Summerteeth's "Via Chicago" and a cover of '70s funkster Charles Wright's "Comment (If All Men Are Truly Brothers)" make the set list, but for the most part the amalgam of pop, punk, avant-garde electronica and dissonant guitar rock seems to be where the band is at these days.
Wilco's resident auteur and frontman Jeff Tweedy isn't much for stage banter, preferring to let his guitar do his talking. The exacting songs from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot such as "Ashes of American Flags" are given freer rein and short pop poems from Ghost such as "The Late Greats" and "Handshake Drugs" are fleshed out and given room to run free.
Sonically, the album covers the waterfront, ranging from roaring guitar feedback to buzzing, bleeping synths to sweet, Beatlesque piano. Live shows Wilco at the top of its game and makes a good case for marking them down as the best band on the U.S. rock scene today.

Newport Folk Festival
Video Arts Music, 4,935 yen
Murray Lerner's chronicle of the pre-hippie heyday of the Newport Folk Festival from 1963 to 1965--including the day Bob Dylan went electric--this 90-minute black-and-white documentary is by turns inspiring, compelling and frustrating.
It's inspiring in that it showcases a staggering array of talent ranging from a woman playing "Turkey in the Straw" on her cheeks to the likes of Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Judy Collins in their prime. The compelling discourse on the blues by Son House and Mike Bloomfield combined with hypnotic performances by Howlin' Wolf and Mississippi John Hurt is worth the price of the DVD alone.
Frustratingly, not one of the dozens of performances recorded are shown in their entirety, with director Lerner giving us a teasing glimpse of the banquet without letting us sit down to eat--Dylan's paradigm shift to electric rock is represented by only a single verse of "Maggie's Farm." Festival is an excellent appetizer, but it leaves the viewer ravenous for more.
(Jan. 5, 2006)

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