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December 10, 2008 |

By TK Burton | Music | December 10, 2008 |

I believe this represents our first review that ties in with a movie review from the same week. I highly recommend reading Dan’s review first. That said, we’ve got another eclectic, fun collection of artists and albums for you today. So without further ado, welcome to Part 2.

caddy2.jpgVarious Artists: Cadillac Records — Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
[Sony Records]

As was already mentioned in Dan’s excellent review, Cadillac Records is not a particularly good movie, taking what should be dense, layered material and not giving it its due. It won’t be helped by the fact that it’s barely being marketed at all… in fact, I learned about it only last week, when I was perusing new musical releases and came across this album. It’s a shame, really, because the music is sort of fascinating. It’s by no means a great release, and after a while, one fails to see the point. But as an artistic exercise, it’s an interesting idea.

In some ways, it’s similar to how the soundtrack to 2005’s Walk the Line was sung by Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon, as opposed to using the original tracks by Johnny Cash and June Carter. In addition to original versions of some artists’a songs, the minds behind Cadillac Records opted to use the actors’s covers of the tracks from the old Chess Records standards as well. As such, it’s a provides a unique vision of music in its original form, as well as artists that we’ve never heard sing before (Jeffrey Wright as Muddy Waters, Mos Def as Chuck Berry). Finally, more experienced singers such as BeyoncĂ© Knowles as Etta James round out this little experiment. Originals like Little Walter’s sparse, solemn blues dirge,”Last Night” and Mary Mary’s funky, ass-shakin’ “The Sound” provide a solid, impressive foundation for the formula.

Mixed in with those classics are some modern pieces like Solange’s (younger sister of Beyonce) and Raphael Saadiq’s, both decent, solid pieces. But the real meat comes from tracks such as BeyoncĂ© Knowles covering Etta James’s “At Last” and “I’d Rather Go Blind.” It’s no surprise that Knowles is a talented songstress, and she manages to hold her own with her versions. She doesn’t surpass, or even achieve the same level as the phenomenal James, but I don’t know that anyone can be expected to. The bigger surprises come from Wright, whose covers of Chicago blues progenitor Muddy Waters are pretty impressive. The harmonica-driven monster hits “I’m A Man, ” and “I’m Your Hoochie-Coochie Man” are another incredibly difficult hill to climb in terms of comparison, and Wright handles them with style. Similarly, Mos Def covering Chuck Berry is something of a revelation. Mos Def has already proven himself to be an excellent actor and a phenomenal recording artist in the hip hop world — Black on Both Sides was an instant classic, and The New Danger is nothing short of revolutionary — but to hear him belting out “No Particular Place To Go” and “Nadine” came as a pleasant surprise. His covers are by no means perfect — they clearly feature his already unusual inflections and vocal oddities — but he sounds like he’s having a hell of a time, and enthusiasm goes a long way sometimes. Perhaps the oddest inclusion was Columbus Short, who played Little Walter, covering “My Babe.” His performance is pretty lackluster, and made all the more so by the inclusion of the aforementioned “Last Night,” which really brings out the clear disparity in talents.

After giving the entire album several listens, I suppose I’m left with one last, and very important, question: Why? Similar to my question about Phoenix and Witherspoon on Walk the Line, I can’t figure out the reasons for it. Don’t get me wrong — I’m thrilled to have the actors take a crack at singing in the film, since it spares us from dealing with them lip syncing. But to release an album where a majority of the tracks are covers is somewhat baffling — regardless of how good or fun their performances are, they’re still inferior to the originals — the competition is simply too stiff. As such, it’s strictly novelty after the first couple listens and I’ll be honest with you — that novelty has already worn off. So I guess it’s worth listening for the experience, but if you’re already a fan of Muddy, Etta, Chuck and company, you’re likely to find yourself reaching for the originals. If you aren’t, you’re likely (I hope) to start to seek them out. I guess in that respect, it’s valuable just to get people to look back to the classics.

microcastle.jpgDeerhunter: Microcastle
[Kranky Records]

When some people in the modern rock scene throw around words like “ambient” or “shoegaze” when referring to a band, they’re usually discussing the music as if it’s pure background noise. A good ambient album is exactly that: Pure ambiance. You don’t need to pay attention. You just turn it on and go about your business.

Deerhunter, the indie/post-punk outfit from Athens, Georgia, understand this concept, and can execute it quite well. But, as the title track of their third full-length album proves, they don’t necessarily want to. The track begins serenely, guitarist Lockett Pundt lazily strumming as lead singer Bradford Cox’s reverb-coated voice croons like Chet Baker in the Luray Caverns. The song could take you to a Georgian summer night by a pond, lightning bugs flitting by your face as you drift to sleep. But, just as the lull of the music pulls you to the point of forgetting that a song is even playing, the rest of the band dives into the water, a grand splash of energy that cleanses the palette of all the ambiance and reminds you that yes, this is a rock band after all.

The band’s presence isn’t always so full, as on the last half of “Green Jacket”, which fades into obscurity as if your speakers were floating away into space and taking the music with them. But credit must be given to the group for not getting lost in the static like so many of their counterparts and, I daresay, their predecessors. The album’s longest cut, “Nothing Ever Happened”, strikes the bouncing punch of The Pixies with Pavement guitar licks, even as the reverberated vocals recall My Bloody Valentine soundscapes.

With Microcastle, Deerhunter reminds us that, in all the ambient noise and beauty a young band might choose to delve into, there can still be melody and, most importantly, rock.
Christian H.

sugarmtn.jpgNeil Young: Sugar Mountain: Live at Canterbury House 1968
[Reprise Records]

I like folks. I like music. If we then assume the transitive property, then I must like folk music. Don’t worry, your geometry classes didn’t lie to you: I do like folk music. It might not come as a surprise then, that I like Neil Young. Among musicians, Young is claimed as an influence almost as much as Woody Guthrie, and for good reason: The man is a constant font of musical expression and creation. Having fallen in love with his timid voice, soulful delivery and simple salt-of-the-earth songwriting at a very young age, I have always related his music to a time in my life that was the epitome of carefree: Just turned 16, falling in love, discovering sex and the personal freedom that comes with acknowledging your own budding and powerful sexuality, creating the semblance of a life, feeling the first quivers of excitement that come from knowing that yes, one day, you will eventually be the master of your own destiny. Young represented freedom. And I say, “Yay Freedom!”

Not to mention that he hails from a time that was considered a pure freedom cultural movement: freedom of expression, freedom of sex, freedom of love, freedom of thought. He represents a time in music — before the barely-clad dancers culled from children’s programming, lip-syncing their way into drug habits and rehab, grabbing their crotches, and asserting that they indeed, are not that innocent—when musicians were more than the number they claimed on the Billboard charts, were more than the profits they drove to a record label, and wrote music that could still change if not the world, then a number of minds about how the world works.

At age 22, Neil Young was on his way to becoming the reluctant master of his own destiny and a music giant just a year after the critically acclaimed success of Buffalo Springfield’s first album. With the help of good bud Joni Mitchell, Young had just signed as a solo artist with Reprise Records when he performed in the now-legendary Ann Arbor show at the Canterbury House; this album, Sugar Mountain Live at Canterbury House 1968, is the first time this performance has been available, and it has been a breathless wait for many a Young fan. “Sugar Mountain” was teased on the B side of his 1970 single “The Loner,” and piqued fans interest in the Canterbury show (the location of the recording having been printed in a note on the B side). The live show was the harbinger of what Young is now best know for; a ridiculously strong work ethic, constant song writing, and a relentless spirit that never let him stay easy for long. The start of his solo career marked the beginning of endless experimentation with musical genres, as well as the beginning of a career that ultimately lasted longer than Bob Dylan’s. He made such a mark vacillating between folk and hard rock that many modern bands of vastly different genres claim him as an influence.

This live album, performed just before his first solo album was released, is a testament to why he was so endearing to his fans and fascinating to watch. He is casual, self-conscious, and free-style, sometimes starting and stopping songs that are barely written, asking the audience what they want to hear, and telling stories. The songs are simple; just Young’s high, tremulous voice and an acoustic guitar, which makes the performance more intimate, and he plays tunes that are from his first forays into songwriting, as well as tunes he played with Buffalo Springfield, such as “Mr. Soul” and “Expecting to Fly” (one of my personal favorites if just for the lyrics: If I never said I loved you / Now you know I’d try). Even these youthful offerings belied a song-writing ability that would truly become legendary. It is almost a how-to primer for songwriters, and gives a lot of insight into the persona that would go on to spark a generation of musicians.

Final note: You like Oasis? Eloquent PaddyDog has 6 tickets for Oasis at AllState Arena on Friday, December 12th. That’s in Chicago.

The tickets are floor, section 2 so they are very good seats if you like being close to the band and don’t mind the Gallagher brothers spitting on you when they inevitably decide to fight with each other mid-concert. Paddy is offering these tickets free to any Pajibans in the Chicago area (face value is $65 plus the first-born child clause that TicketMaster always requires). It’s because she’s awesome.

If you’d like these tickets, email Dustin (dustin at pajiba dot com) to arrange for pick-up.

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TK Burton is the Editorial Director. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.

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