Musical Chairs

Posted on June 22, 2008 – 3:26 PM | by OldManFoster
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Rodney Cornelius is best known as the ‘guitarist’ for Sacto’s zebra-vestedest garage-rock band, [and MM’s publisher’s first band –ed.] the Trouble Makers. Fans of said musical ensemble probably won’t be surprised to learn that Rodney’s musical career began back in 1963 when he formed a surf band with school buddies. They might be surprised to learn that Rodney also plays the didjeridoo. Rodney may be the only person on earth to have seen The Who open for Herman’s Hermits, Ice T open for Body Count and Miles Davis open for Leon Russell.

Bob Log III—School Bus (Fat Possum)
Ok, here’s my dirty little secret. I love Bob Log III. He is the band The Trouble Makers try to be. Bob is going to require some explaining, starting with his sartorial choice… He wears a spandex jumpsuit, probably acquired from some third-rate Elvis impersonator. He also wears a motorcycle helmet with a full-face shield. Glued to the face shield is a telephone handset with the listening end affixed to the middle of the shield, so the speaking end is just below the bottom of the shield. This is his microphone! Understandably some of the lyrics are a bit elusive. He plays a bass drum with his left foot and a cymbal with his right foot. And finally, he plays bottleneck style guitar on some low budget instrument from hell. Usually the strings are tuned down so low that they just seem to slap the neck. To say that this guy plays swampy blues is just an unbelievable understatement. When Bob gets up to speed, you might find yourself diving under the furniture for safety. You really feel like you may get hit by flying debris. One wild and woolly ride!

Anouar Brahem—Le pas du chat noir (ECM)
Lovers arabesque, intertwined, drifting apart then together. Think of the most beautiful, intimate moments you’ve read about, seen, or experienced yourself. That is where this music lives. Brahem, a master of the oud (a Middle Eastern lute), initially wrote the music on the piano as solo pieces. But, at some point the oud returned to his music and then a third element, the accordion, was added. The space around each note is vast, embracing every other note. Listening, one thinks it would be impossible for this music to be any other way. Brahem is joined here by his longtime collaborator Francois Couturier on piano and Jean-Louis Matinier on accordion.

Hurdy Gurdy—Prototyp (Northside)
What is it? A gang of psycho fiddle players? A Scottish regiment coming from across the moors? Trent Reznor and his minions? No, it’s two Swedish dudes with hurdy gurdies and laptops! According to Webster’s, “the hurdy gurdy (also called a wheel fiddle) is an early instrument shaped like a lute but played by turning a crank attached to a rosined wheel that causes the strings to vibrate”. A melody is played by pressing keys along its neck. There are usually two melody strings and three or four drone strings. They sound something like a bagpipe. Today many people call them the “medieval synthesizer”. Hallbus Totte Mattsson (from the band Hedningarna) and Stefan Brisland-Ferner (from the band Garmarna), stuck contact mics all over their instruments, isolated the sounds and recorded them into their laptops. They sliced and diced the sounds and came up with something that’s medieval/techno/electronica. Totally original. Insect-like, spiraling and swirling around you. It’s great fun.

Djivan Gasparyan—I Will Not Be Sad In This World (Opal)
The title of this CD really says it all. This is some of the most heartfelt, soulful music you will ever hear. Gasparyan plays a duduk (also called a nay), a double-reed flute (the folk version of an oboe). Another duduk player accompanies him playing a tonic drone note called the dam. Together, the sound is very warm and inviting. And, with the melodies being played, it has a mournful longing quality. Gasparyan is Armenian and his music reflects both the pain and the strength of his country.

Wolf Eyes—Burned Mind (Sub Pop)
These three guys are leading the pack in the American noise scene. There really is no middle ground when it comes to this type of thing. You are either going to absolutely love it, or absolutely hate it, (look at the reviews for proof of this). What do they sound like? White noise and napalm? An 18 wheeler loaded with hogs falling a thousand feet and crashing into your local elementary school? Akron, Ohio being flooded with toxic waste from the neighborhood nuclear power plant? All and none of the above. That’s the beauty of noise. It either triggers all sorts of acid dripping images or your brain simple tells you. “This is not music, this is nothing, this is noise!” And that is the whole point—take no prisoners. Wolf Eyes makes metal bands sound like girlie-men playing nursery rhymes.

Houndog—Houndog (Legacy/Columbia)
I’ve saved the best for last. This is in the top three of my all-time favorite albums! It was a side project for David Hidalgo (Los Lobos) and Mike Halby (Canned Heat, John Mayall). If you like Tom Waits or Latin Playboys, you’ll probably like Houndog. This is not your garden variety blues album. It has a glorious gritty low down/slowed down sound. It also has a dreamlike smokey quality, that at times verges on the surreal. You know these guys spent their youth listening to great blues and R&B music, because Houndog completely captures the essence of that music. Hidalgo’s production takes it beyond both the Playboys and even Waits (really). He uses a simple technique, vari-speed, to great effect. Vari-speed is where music is recorded on tape at one speed and played back at a different speed. Hidalgo slows down the playback speed (speed it up and you get Alvin and the Chipmunks). The slower speed is especially noticeable in the drums and vocals. Every time I listen to this album I’m back on Whittier Blvd. in Bob Witcom’s ‘63 powder blue Chevy Impala. A stack of 45’s is on the record player, the reverb cranked, and we’re heading for Bob’s Big Boy. This was the music we listened to. I have to think Hidalgo and Halby were in one of the other cars cruising through Bob’s…

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