Shot Of Rhythm

[ Friday, May 26, 2006 ]


We tip our hat

R.I.P. Desmond Dekker...


"007 (Shanty Town)"

"Rude Boy Train"

Also, check out the fine tribute to Billy Walker over at Way Down In The Hole. I was gonna do something like this, but Dallas did a better job than I could've hoped to.

On the box right now: Joe Hinton, FUNNY (HOW TIME SLIPS AWAY).


Dove With Claws [9:42 AM]

[ Thursday, May 25, 2006 ]


Not ready to make nice

The new Dixie Chicks album, TAKING THE LONG WAY, their first since the famous "ashamed" remark three years ago, was released on Tuesday. It's almost a concept album, in the sense that nearly every song thematically addresses (whether directly or obliquely) the turbulent aftermath of Natalie Maines' comment in London. Most of these take the form of strong assertions, where Maines, Maguire and Robison stand firm in their identities, ideologies and emotional responses. Lots of "I Won't Back Down"-type stuff here, some of which is fist-pumping, some of which is more reflective. Overall, it's a brave decision, since many artists would probably do their best to quiet down the furor that cost the Chicks album sales and (particularly) radio play, so they should be credited for their courage.


What strikes me as immediately as the overt attempts to address, interrogate, and even defy the controversy is how - frankly - somber this album sounds. Part of this has to do with Rick Rubin's characteristically ponderous production style, which has - with varying degrees of success - marked nearly every record (except hip-hop and metal) that he's worked on. Part of this also has to do with the fact that there's simply not one funny, or even fun, song on this record, which marks an unwelcome departure from the Chicks' previous history of rambunctious, irreverent, and even bawdy material that displayed their unique (and uniquely popular) brand of energetic honky-tonk. ("Goodbye Earl," "Sin Wagon," and "White Trash Wedding" are but three examples.) While I have no problem with the Chicks' decision to take a more serious tone on this record (since, after all, these are serious times), part of the reason I liked the Dixie Chicks in the first place was that they seemed like they were having fun, at least some of the time.

Part of this also has to do with the album's sound. Abandoning most of the Nashville musicians and songwriters who helped craft their first three albums, here the Chicks are joined by an all-star cast of NPR favorites, Keb Mo, John Mayer, and The Jayhawks' Gary Louris among them. Louris is a particularly apt choice, since much of this album sounds a lot like the Jayhawks' brand of beautifully-crafted, relatively uninteresting material. (They do co-write a song with Linda Perry, which is an interesting choice, and is the one song on the album that sounds like it could hit pop radio.) In short, this album sounds a lot less like anything on country radio than it does the kind of AAA/adult contemporary rock that their recent political statements would assumedly trigger a shift towards.

And that's a shame, since it seems to me that the Dixie Chicks would have made a much greater statement by making a record that country radio would have been forced to ignore for simply political reasons. Musically, this album is as much an overture to the NPR crowd that the Dixie Chicks won over with their politicization as it is anything. Which is all well and good, but I can't help but wonder if - all the expressed defiance aside - the Chicks aren't beating an unspoken retreat away from the country fans who were supposedly so offended by the London comment. In a strange way, TAKING THE LONG WAY is as strong a claim for country conservatism (or rock/lefty isolationism) as any Toby Keith or Daryl Worley (or R.E.M.) record. (This is similar to Steve Earle's recent moves away from the pure-country of his early albums, towards a fiery brand of rock that many of his early fans find alienating. But at least Steve Earle still sounds like he's having fun.) And, as any number of left-wing country fans and musicians can tell you, the last thing we need is a reification of that simplified understanding.

All that being said, it's a pretty good record, with some nice, Byrds-ish jangle and harmony. The Dixie Chicks are simply too good to make a wholly bad album, and there are a few nice moments of strong, sweet songcraft that do engage with the complicated consequences of taking such a public stand. Here are my three favorites.

"The Long Way Around"

"Easy Silence"

"Everybody Knows"

Kelefa Sanneh wrote a great piece in the NEW YORK TIMES about this very issue, with some provocative suggestions about the Chicks' own implication in their exile from the country establishment. Check that out...

On the box right now: Gnarls Barkley, ST. ELSEWHERE.


Dove With Claws [8:14 AM]

[ Tuesday, May 23, 2006 ]


Ain't no party like a cyberspace party

Lots of great hip-hop cuts leaking their way around the 'net lately. Here's a few of the best, most of which are to be featured on their respective artists' upcoming albums. (The Cee-Lo and Plantlife track is a collaboration between the king of hip-hop soul and a French group, and is just weird enough to make sense.)

Big assist on this entry to APS, who can be found over at Holler If Ya Hear Me and who alerted me to most of the stuff here.

The Fugees - "Foxy"

The Fugees - "Wanna Be"

Plantlife feat. Cee-Lo - "Gangsta Boogie"

Pharrell feat. Kanye West - "Number 1"

Sleepy Brown feat. Pharrell and Big Boi - "Margarita"

The Roots - "Don't Feel Right"

On the box right now: Dixie Chicks, TAKING THE LONG WAY. Check back Thursday for more on this. I have thoughts...


Dove With Claws [7:55 PM]

[ Monday, May 22, 2006 ]


Soul Patrol

Yeah, I admit it - I'm a big fan of Taylor Hicks, one of the finalists on AMERICAN IDOL, and I'm a big enough Taylor booster to cause me to vote as much as I can for "Gray Charles" tomorrow night. Yeah, I know, his dancing is goofy, and there are times when I wish he'd wrap his tenderly gritty vocal chords around a country song (can you imagine this guy singing Charlie Rich? I can), but there's something wonderfully heartening about the American public being so fond of such a rich, soul-influenced vocal talent. (Besides, as anyone who knows me can attest, why wouldn't I love the white guy from Alabama singing soul music?)

Anyway, here's five bits of Taylor, from various sources. Cast your vote tomorrow night, because - to quote George Carlin - even in a fake democracy, people oughta get what they want some of the time.

Soul patrol!

"Gonna Move"/"Brown-Eyed Handsome Man" (live)

"Birmingham" (live)

"Tighten Up" (live)

"Dancin' In The Dark," from AMERICAN IDOL

"You Send Me," from AMERICAN IDOL

Check back tomorrow for some hot hip-hop cuts making their way around cyberspace. (New shit from Fugees, Cee-Lo, etc.)

On the box right now: T-Bone Burnett, TWENTY TWENTY: ESSENTIAL, Disc 2. Burnett's one of those artists whom the 2-disc compilation serves perfectly.


Dove With Claws [8:54 AM]