4/20/12

New Trove of Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer Songs Released


DAVE CARTER & TRACY GRAMMER
Little Blue Egg
Red House 251
* * * *
There’s no point in reading any list of greatest songwriters of the 20th century that doesn’t have Dave Carter’s name on it. Carter (1952-2002) hailed from California, but sounded like he came from the Texas Panhandle. His father was a mathematician and his mother a teacher and charismatic Christian. Dave was raised in the bosom of Abraham, but left it to sit at the feet of the Buddha, though many of his songs subtly critiqued evangelicalism whilst fully embracing religious mysticism.
Fans of the three albums Carter made with Tracy Grammer will be delighted to embrace Little Blue Egg, a collection of eleven previously unreleased tracks (though Grammer recorded “Gypsy Rose” on her 2005 Flower of Avalon CD). It would be unfair to call this a fourth Carter and Grammer album as it was cobbled together from home recordings and demo tapes. This means that a few of the tracks feel like homespun in which the raw edges aren’t yet tacked down. Those who saw the duo sing songs such as “Cross of Jesus” know that the arrangements and balance evolved from what is heard on the CD. But, my goodness, could the man turn a phrase. Who has captured the trucker’s life with better lines than these? “God is my witness, poker’s my game/Whiskey’s my poison, forgotten’s my name/And it’s biscuits when I’m hungry and it’s diesel when I’m dry/And it’s 18 wheels of lonesome for the tears you cry. (“Hard Edge of Livin”) The ten original tracks–the collection includes a cover of “Way Down Yonder in the Minor Key”­–traverse the themes for which Carter’s pen earned renown: the open spaces of the land and the heart, love with both sentimentality and hard knocks intact, mythology, redneck preachers, and the fragility of life. Hearing these songs will make you weep for the joy of hearing them and quake from the injustice that such a talent was taken away too soon.
Here’s good 1999 concert footage and interviews with Dave and Tracy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XR4YgibqV64
A superb 18 minute video of Tracy from 2012 can be heard here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MrPibOuQf0g

4/18/12

Elin Furubotn Jazz too Chilly to Ignite


ELIN FURUBOTN

Heilt Nye Vei

Ozella Music 039

* ½

I was surprised to find that Heilt Nye Vei is Norwegian jazz singer Elin Furubotn’s fifth release because, frankly, it sounds like the sort of record someone too young for the material would make. Granted this release falls into the smooth jazz category, but throughout Furubotn is soft where she should be sassy, whispery where she ought to let loose, and flabby where she ought to be muscular. Perhaps the idea was to contrast the harder instrumentals with the prettiness of Furubotn’s voice, but it doesn’t work. What one ends up remembering are the funky bass lines of Gjermund Silset, the sexy sax of Karl Seglem, the cascading piano runs of David WallumrĂžd, and the overall vibrancy of the arrangements. What one easily forgets is most of Furubotn’s vocal work. She sounds like a pop singer trying to do jazz, an impression driven home on the album’s several tracks that are more pop influenced, and the only ones in which she sounds as if she’s in her element. Granted she’s Norwegian, but Furubotn could stand to melt her icy vocals with some occasional fire.

4/16/12

Oka! Soundtrack Feels at Once Exotic and Familiar


VARIOUS ARTISTS FROM THE BAYAKA PEOPLES

Listen: Oka!

Oka Productions

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We say that music is a universal language and, these days, mashing genres is as common as spring rain. For all of that, though, there are myriad ways in which no matter how many walls we knock down, there’s still a lot of music that’s culturally specific.

In 2011, film director Lavinia Currier traveled to Central Africa to make Oka!, a film starring Kris Marshall of Love, Actually fame. This time, instead of hanging out with Keira Knightley and Emma Thompson, Marshall was among the Bayaka peoples, a Pygmy tribe. Musician/sound engineer Chris Berry was brought in to record ambient sounds and local music, plus find ways to integrate these with Western sounds and create the movie’s soundtrack. Berry has done a marvelous job, but he’s the first to point out that there are some barriers that are hard to cross. Take the blues, for instance. In the West, they’re built around 12-bars, but the Baraka think nothing of 54- and 67-bar blues!

I highly recommend this soundtrack for those looking for something that is both familiar and unique. Berry’s usual M.O. is to record environmental sounds and follow with songs that capture the same spirit. For instance, he leads with 52 seconds of birdcalls and voices, then follows with “Yetoo’s Dream,” which uses primordial keening female voices overdubbed with bird sounds, live percussion, and drum loops. Despite the exoticism of the piece, it wouldn’t be out of place in a dance hall. Similarly he juxtaposes simple wooden flutes and balafon with cuckoo-like vocalizations that produce a very African form of trance music. Later there’s “Bottlefunk Girls,” whose exuberant female vocals has a street jive feel, though it’s a long way from a street corner. Not unusual enough form you? How about some sounds of monkeys eating followed by drumming and staccato paced male vocals? Or woodpeckers mixed with vocals that emulate that sound, but also sound as hip as anything a rap DJ could come up with? Want something quieter? How about “Song for Thinking,” which is watery and pensive? Indeed, why not some elephant sounds as well? This soundtrack is 52 minutes worth of mystery and delight. You’ll walk away thinking you’ve have no idea of where you’ve just been, though it feels like you should!