Red Headed Stranger
DiCristina Stair Builders Records
If you've ever heard The Geraldine Fibbers' neglected 1995 debut, Lost Somewhere Between the Earth and My Home, then the concept of singer Carla Bozulich doing a cover-to-cover re-make of Willie Nelson's classic, Red Headed Stranger, becomes a trifle less surprising.
But just a trifle. No amount of familiarity with the now-defunct Fibbers' avant-country leanings will prepare you for the sheer brilliance that Bozulich and guitar wizard Nels Cline have concocted with their updated version of the seminal Country Outsider record.
Willie thought enough of their remake to stamp his signature all over it. The country music icon duets twice with Bozulich and adds his trademark nylon lead-guitar runs to three more. It's a credit to all involved that Willie's new contributions are as essential as his old in the revamped sonic framework.
But it's the centerpiece of the new record, the 11-minute title track (the original's lasted four minutes) that typifies the sonic invention and brashly announces this record's greatness.
Cline weaves layer upon layer of lonely, wide-open and sometimes sinister soundscapes that recall the cinematic desert-noir instrumentals of Friends of Dean Martinez or Scenic. The guitar drones and dissonance flesh out Willie's early skeletal frameworks while managing -- through some sort of Faustian sorcery -- to adhere to the first commandment of the initial release: respect the sparseness.
Violinist Jenny Schnieman also plays an indispensable role, adding middle-eastern accents on the epic title track and intriguing multi-flavored work elsewhere.
But it's Bozulich's voice -- alternately growling, snarling, cooing, wooing and poignant -- that links past and present. On T. Texas Tyler's lament, "Remember Me," Bozulich is a Berlin cabaret singer channeling Patsy Cline's pain, while Nels Cline, bassist Devin Hoff and drummer Scott Amendola lay down a perfectly sensuous, late-night jazz vibe that -- via more of that voodoo they do -- maintains the original song's country blues aura.
It's like that throughout the new Red Headed Stranger: without compromising Willie's vision, Bozulich, Cline and Co. have added a myriad of post-rock elements and come up with something wholly original and no less transcendent. Remarkable.
Track to burn: "Red Headed Stranger"
-- John Schacht
What's Wrong With This Picture?
There's a popular adage that great singers could "sing the phone book and make it sound good." Van Morrison, by virtue of his malleable phrasing, could probably just sing the words "phone book" over and over and never repeat himself once on an entire record.
Unlike most R&B singers of today, however, it never sounds forced or stilted when Morrison pleads his case to a lover (or God, or the devil, or himself). Backed by a large stable of session players, Morrison sounds rejuvenated on What's Wrong, putting equal juice into both cover songs (the traditional "St. James Infirmary," Lightnin' Hopkins "Stop Drinking") and self-penned originals.
This is Morrison's first release for Blue Note, the legendary jazz label, and it's such a natural match one wonders why no one thought of it before. Consider this "late period" Morrison, then. He's no rock and roll artist, as he sings more than once here. He's a blues, jazz and folk man, three genres where age matters very little and experience counts for everything. Put another way, there was never anything wrong with the picture -- it simply needed a new frame.
Track to burn: "Evening in June"
--Timothy C. Davis
Peas and Collards
Brothers Michael and Mark Holland, the band's driving force, defy convention with their top-notch writing and solemn, yet joyous, playing. Peas and Collards, recorded in the summer of 2001, was made available as a limited Internet release and will now see the light of day as an official release on Charlotte's MoRisen Records. It's blues flavored with gospel, rock leaning on ambience, and guitars punctuating a sound splattered with psychedelics.
What you get are 13 tracks (clocking in at 70 minutes) of downright uplifting rock.
The Hollands talk and walk the blues through an assortment of rock & roll the way Velvet Underground and the Rolling Stones used to do it. Better check your pulse if you don't take a deep breath and fall into a trance while "Clear Tone Blues" chalks up its smoky groove invoking Led Zeppelin's "When the Levee Breaks." Jennyanykind spread their agenda with a gentle nod rather than slaps to the head as the guitars reverberate through the air in a vibe that's loose yet jazzy.
Track to burn: "The Promised Land"