happy the man

UFO 1016
* * * (of five)

Since their debut in 2003 the Irish duo Guggenheim Grotto (Kevin May and Mick Lynch) have steadily attracted notice. I am, however, among those who have been underwhelmed. It is only with the release of happy the man, Guggenheim’s fifth album, that I’m starting to see what the hype is about, and even now I retain a dose of skepticism. Guggenheim is billed as a “folk-pop’ act, which is not quite accurate. They’re more in line with the alt.rock band Snow Patrol in that they seek to lay down dense dance hall grooves backed by enigmatic lyrics. As a dance band, Guggenheim Grotto does well. May’s keyboards launch the duo into electronica territory, especially when Lynch puts aside his acoustic guitar and picks up the bass. Their sound fills all the aural cracks and is surprisingly full considering there’s just two of them. This is accomplished, of course, through loops and delays. Each is also a fine vocalist, sporting smooth, warm, and sunny tones. What neither May not Lynch is, however, is poetic and here’s where I part company with those keen to praise Guggenheim Grotto. Lyrics are often clunky and immature. Okay, we don’t need dance music to be profound, but redundancy is seldom interesting. In “Her Beautiful Ideas,” for example, the already weak lyrics are framed by the constant—and I mean constant—repetition of two lines: “just can’t seem to get out of bed anymore,” and “let’s get naked and get under the sheets.” The latter line was repeated so often that I wondered if the song was going to outlast the average act of coitus. The same sort of beat-it-into-the-ground writing is find in “Oh Nikita,” where they sing “I’m almost thirty” so often I thought, “Well by that age shouldn’t you have discovered the thesaurus!?” happy the man is easily the best thing that Guggenheim Grotto has done to date and a step in the right musical direction. Now for a creative writing class.--LV


More bombast from Pharisee Joe.

Need another reason to support a government-run health care system? Joe Lieberman is against it. That’s good enough for me. If the Nutmeg Narcissist doesn’t like something, it has to be good for the rest of us.

Lieberman calls himself an “independent Democrat.” Hmmm. What would you call a guy who supports increasing defense spending, continues to support the war in Iraq, calls No Child Left Behind “progressive” educational reform, and wants to regulate the content in video games, the film industry, and the Internet?

Perhaps you were thinking “Republican.” Actually, “Pharisee” is a better term. Like those bygone pompous princes of presumption, Joe thinks he is the beholder of all things moral, legal, and desirable. He is an elitist of the first order, one who takes care of fellow elitists. Working people should have wised up to Lieberman when he voted to pass NAFTA. Who does he really care about? The insurance industry for one. That old Connecticut staple has been in decline for some time, but Lieberman continues to pander to it with his votes to limit damages in product liability suits and in curtailing the right to sue corporations. On health care he’s shown his true stripes once again. He has cosponsored the Healthy Americans Act. According to his own Website, it “would establish a centrally financed system of private health insurance options for all Americans.” And there it is; Pharisee Joe isn’t about to take a step that might cut into the profits of health care insurers; he values their health over yours.

Back in 2006 Lieberman lost the Democratic primary to Ned Lamont, an actual progressive. Rather than play the loyal party man, Lieberman promptly declared himself an independent, used the Iraq War as a scare tactic, and got enough frightened Nutmeg voters to give him back his Senate sinecure. In 2008, Lieberman again backstabbed Democrats by supporting John McCain’s presidential bid in 2008. These days he walks around with faux gravitas etched on his face and tells us he opposes a government health care option because “there’s danger in trying to do too much.”

How many times does Lieberman need to step out with a new floozy before Connecticut voters realize that’s he’s not going to keep his wedding vows? The path to meaningful reform begins with a “Recall Joe Lieberman” vote in Connecticut. If you live there, sign aboard—it will do wonders for your physical and psychic wellbeing.



Thompson tears up the hall.

The packed October 6 concert at Northampton’s Calvin Theater was billed as “Loud and Rich,” a wordplay on the evening’s two headliners, Loudon Wainwright III and Richard Thompson. Many in attendance—including us—felt the show would have been stronger if it had featured more Thompson and less Wainwright.

Wainwright opened the evening with an eighty-minute set that felt longer. There’s nothing wrong with Wainwright’s voice—at age 63 it retains both power and range. In like fashion, he remains an incisive critic of modern culture. Part of his set was like a musical newspaper, as he chipped in with sharp parodies of phenomena such as the cash-for-clunkers program, the (non) glories of Florida, and the economic theories of Paul Krugman. He also did a hysterical song about an embattled couple forced to stay together because they couldn’t sell their house during the recession. Okay, not too many songwriters would have the intelligence or the moxie to write folk songs about economics. But a little of Wainwright goes a long way. As he smirked, rattled off surrealistic remarks, and balanced flamingo-like on one leg, Wainwright became akin to the class clown with a tiresome shtick. And we certainly could have done without the gratuitous references to past drug usage and sexual conquests. Remember how embarrassing it got when The Smothers Brothers aged and Tommy continued to do the Mom-always-liked-you-best routine? That’s what it’s like when guys in their sixties evoke the Sixties. Wainwright’s best moments were when he was more serious, as he was with more recent material such as “Motel Blues” and his sublime reworking of old Charlie Poole material.

All sour tastes vanished when Richard Thompson took the stage, bedecked in his now-signature outfit: black beret, jeans, work boots, and a military-like shirt with faux insignia. Looking a bit like one of Ché’s guerillas, Thompson wielded two devastating weapons: his cutaway acoustic guitar and a repertoire of dark, poignant songs. Thompson’s stage persona is, perhaps, as much of a mask as Wainwright’s, but the contrast is that of near-chaos to utter control. Nothing rattled Thompson, who easily deflected an obnoxious audience member who was either drunk or deluded and called out for “Whipping Post” (which Thompson did not write or does not perform). He just let other audience members shush the idiot and did his thing.

And what a thing it was! Thompson opened with “Cold Kisses” and a flurry of guitar work that showcases what makes him so extraordinary. Lots of players, including Thompson, can speed up and down the neck, but very few can pick with him. His right hand control is so complete that it’s often as if his thumb and index finger operate on a completely different circuit than the other three digits. It gives Thompson’s solo guitar the weight and volume of two. What mood do you want the guitar to set? Muscular and dangerous? Check. Jaunty and dancy? Check. Glass-like delicacy? Check. Daggers to the heart? Double check on that one. Thompson rocked out on “I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight,” got the crowd singing (“Johnny’s Far Away”), and lulled the 800-strong throng to astonished and appreciative silence with his stunning rendition of “Sunset Song.” And who doesn’t love “1952 Vincent Black Lightning?” Though we’ve loved the song for years, we’ve never heard it played better. Every song in Thompson’s set was a winner and—though it was about ten minutes longer than Wainwright’s—it felt like the evening was just getting started when he left the stage with his powerful anti-Iraq War “Dad’s Gonna Kill Me.” Thompson’s first encore was “Down Where the Drunkards Roll,” and he finished off with a duet with Wainwright. Loudon played his heart out on that one. He had to, or he’d have been left in the dust.


Rivers, Kings and Curses
No Records 3406
** 1/2

David Nigel Lloyd bills himself as a “non-traditional traditionalist,” a good handle for songs that often sound old but aren’t, and guitar work in the English staccato style of Martin Carthy and Bert Jansch. Lloyd left Great Britain for the States in 1962, and kicked around rock, folk-rock, and punk bands from the late 1960s until the 90s, when he repackaged himself as a storytelling troubadour. Lloyd’s voice has a lot of road mileage on it and he often twists melodies in border-of-breaking ways reminiscent of Robin Williamson (Incredible String Band), who guests on Lloyd’s new record. But even if Lloyd’s singing is an acquired taste, fancy fretwork, tales plucked from English folklore, and new ones sort of drawn from the same source will entertain.