Heron King Blues
Tim Rutili's dreams make beautiful music. "Fill my belly with your whispering," the Califone leader sings to the spectral title character of the band's new release: "Carry your bed on wingbone legs...lift the shade and let the night in."
The half-man, half-bird hybrid of Rutili's subconscious has visited his dreams for years. When he recently stumbled across a historical antecedent -- a mythical Druid figure the Romans used to frighten and route pagan hordes -- his nighttime visitor got a name, and a record-metaphor was born.
Rutili has said the figure isn't nightmarish, but a reminder that only our true natures matter. If it all seems rather elliptical...well, that's the draw. Califone's music exists practically outside of time, much like the foot-in-both-worlds feeling you get waking directly from a dream. Ringing acoustic guitars recall old folk tales; rhythms pump and swell, suggesting primal, ancient beats; tape loops and synth washes open the future's doors -- walk through them, and there's no telling where you are: the past, present and future cross-bred in one mesmerizing sound.
The six songs that begin the disc were originally intended to be an EP the band would tour behind. They range from sparse, acoustic beauties ("Wingbone," "Lion & Bee") to full-on electrified rave-ups (the Curtis Mayfield-like "2 Sisters Drunk On Each Other," the Passion-era Peter Gabriel-esque "Trickbird"). But the band also wanted to recreate the near trance-like state they often reach on stage; the recorded result is a 15-minute improvisational head-nod to Captain Beefheart's one-take masterwork, Mirror Man.
Like any band worth its salt, Califone doesn't rest in one place very long. Last year's acclaimed Quicksand/Cradlesnakes was a tempting source to mine deeper, but Rutili and Co. moved to another vein and struck gold again. Hearing it is like a dream come true.
Track to burn: "Wingbone"
Grade: A--John Schacht
Righteous Babe Records
DiFranco is a stalwart of indie-land and has sold hundreds of thousands of records through DIY means. She puts most contemporary female musicians on the radio to shame with her caustic pen, though her self-indulgence can at times overwhelm even friendly listeners. On Educated Guess, she ponders everything from relationships to feminism, all with a hipster, jazz singer-style interspersed with spoken words that slide into a solo poetry slam. In "Grand Canyon," she lays down her observations with bits of acoustic layers accenting the poetic devices. "Bubble" is a fleshed-out track that gives the acoustic guitar some electric qualities. Overall, her guitar spews out funky and folksy beats on the uplifting tunes, while others are introspective glances into life on a chilly winter morning. DiFranco's wordplay rolls off the tongue smoothly, whereas the record's acoustic tilt could use an infusion of percussion and rhythm flourishes. It's nice to see a well-packaged release stuffed with a thick booklet filled with art, photos and writings in this age of rampant file sharing and music downloading. The success of DiFranco's self-owned record label holds even more weight now in light of the shifting sands in the music business, giving young musicians a blueprint for their own potential.
Track to burn: "Bodily"
Grade: B---Samir Shukla
MTN CTY JNK
There's a popular adage that "there's nothing new under the sun." When you're talking about music, that becomes particularly true. Band A takes from Band B, who in turn took from Band C, who took everything they knew from Blind Mississippi Whoever, who got it from the devil.
Which is not to say that a band cannot be truly original, even within this context. Specifically, I'm speaking about emotional originality. The Asheville-bred DrugMoney don't do anything you haven't heard before, but they manage to do it in a way you haven't felt before, more often than not.
Bandleader Fisher Meehan looks a little like the Butthole Surfers' Gibby Haynes, but writes melodies more in line with another famous surfer, Brian Wilson. The rest of the band -- specifically bassist Bill Reynolds -- provide the necessary swells and barrels and psychedelic loops for Meehan to carve, which he does with marvelous aplomb -- see "I Know," the classic-in-waiting "Oregon Song," and "Small Thinking."
A fair amount has been said -- regionally, at least -- about Meehan's hair-flipping, stage-bounding charisma and star-level wattage. Good thing they finally got it all on tape, then. After all, the word "charisma" comes from the Latin word for "gift," and a gift is only truly good when shared.
Track to burn:"Oregon Song"
Grade: A--Timothy C. Davis