Posts Tagged ‘folk’

Tarnation – Gentle Creatures

September 12, 2011 Leave a comment

4AD Records, 1995

I have to admit that I enjoy reviewing bands that I’ve actually heard of and will find relatively easy to write about.  It also helps that I wrote about Tarnation’s second album earlier, so I knew exactly what I was going to pick up.  However, it turns out this is the first record they released, so as great as their second album sounded the first could go in many directions.  It could be less polished and clunky or perhaps heavier on the rock ‘n roll.  You know, sometimes bands are still finding themselves and Paula Frazer does come from a punk background.  But hey, for a dollar I was just hoping for some of that fine Americana music to relax to whatever bumpiness may occur.

Amidst a decade knee deep in grunge and grunge knockoffs, Tarnation takes a calmer tack with its warm Americana and folk songs.  There is nothing on this record that will make your heart race, unless of course you’re swept up in the lyrics.  I found that the casual pace of the record actually serves as a relaxation pill to help get one’s feet kicked up.  It certainly helps that the band utilizes the lap steel guitar and a cello once in awhile, though anyone know what an optigan is?  I had to look it up to determine that it is an electronic keyboard that had a short run in the early seventies.  I guess it also assisted in these country feelings.

Now, as much as I like the sound of Tarnation and Frazer’s voice, I could completely understand if someone is turned off early on in the record.  This could be due to either the back-to-back six minutes songs of “The Well” and “Big O Motel” or easily the quiet, plodding pace of the band.  Not much changes during these songs, so if one does not enjoy the light strumming and slide guitar on “The Well” then the tune will be cumbersome.  The same goes for “Big O Motel”, which is ever lighter and more repetitive.  The rest of the album sticks to three minutes or so for the most part, so why these epics were fastened early on in the listening process is a little puzzling.

Lengthy songs aside, Tarnation is quite good in the shorter instances.  The opener “Game of Broken Hearts” sounds like a solo demo by Frazer, but it easily sets the tone (and example) for the rest of the record with its easy guitar and Frazer’s stirring vocals.  The title track’s brevity is a pity, for as the lone instrumental on the record it gives off the air of a track from an unknown western movie.  “Do You Fancy Me” is as slow as anything else, but something about using the word ‘fancy’ as well as Frazer taking the cloud-shooting voice down a bit makes the song a real nice, countrified listen.

Unlike the second album, where it was Frazer all the time, “Gentle Creatures” gives time to the other band members to sing lead vocals.  Matt Wendell Sullivan’s deeper voice sounds excellent on “Listen to the Wind” with Frazer echoing in the background.  As for the other band members, Lincoln Allen has a fine weathered voice on the traditionally country “Stranger in the Mirror” while Michelle Cernuto sings in echo on a Magnetic Fields-like “Burn Again”.  Though Frazer has the most captivating voice, the rest of the band succeed in carrying a few good tunes when given the chance to sing.

There still isn’t a lot on the web about Tarnation, but Paula Frazer’s MySpace page, the band’s page, and a video from their second album may convince you to go check them out.

The group put out “Mirador” a few years later before taking a ten year hiatus, which essentially gave Paula Frazer time for her solo career.  The band did put out an album in recent years, so it remains to be seen whether or not Tarnation is back for real. I suppose I’m a fan of the group now with two straight, enjoyable records.  Some people may not warm to Frazer’s voice or the quiet country sound of the songs, so if a few tracks don’t turn you on then you likely won’t agree with my spin on the two albums.  For me, I suppose that if I need to hear something soothing with a vocalist that doesn’t grate on me I would choose something from Tarnation.


Dana Cooper – The Conjurer

December 20, 2010 Leave a comment

Dog Eared Records, 2010

What a killer album cover!  It reminds me of the old “The Shadow” and the like illustrations, which I imagine was the intent given that some of those old magician posters had a similar style.  I didn’t hesitate much to pick this one up even if I had zero idea what Cooper was going to sound like.  However, the hesitation would have been even shorter if the tagline stated that he ate knives or could be sawed in half without expiring.  I would have paid to hear that happen.  A track entitled “Ow … ARRGH … Hey I’m Okay” would’ve been an instant hit in my house.

Dana Cooper twirls up a combination of light pop and country, which is easily listenable and upbeat enough to spark momentum.  Cooper’s voice reminds me a little bit of Don Henley’s due to its hint of raspiness and even tone.  It’s enough to make songs like “Enough”  and “Cold Wind & Bitter Fiddles” pleasant to listen to no matter what the audience.  “Enough” is the first and probably the best track on the record, for it showcases the warm dynamic from the band as well as Cooper’s voice.

“Leave a Little Mark” is a fine song, and for it to show up this early in the record is a bit of surprise.  It has a sense of drama and a very pleasing composition with its urgent sound.  Considering one just got off from hearing a country swing, “Leave a Little Mark” is quick to show some of Cooper’s diverse tastes.  It is a unique track to the rest of the record, however, and it takes “Leo & Lucille” to shake things up a little.  Granted, it’s still a country song albeit with harmonica, but it’s about a hooker named Lucille.  According to Cooper she’s been “pissed off and knocked up/pissed on and locked up in jail”.  Pissed on?  That’s gotta be an angry hooker.  Despite her state of hygiene, it’s a charming rambler of a folk tune.

You can give a listen to some of Dana Cooper’s music at his website as well as MySpace.

Dana Cooper’s “The Conjurer” is a fine record for anyone interested in a singer-songwriter type who invests in touches of country, pop, and folk.  I imagine he’d be a good fit in anyone’s music collection if you need something easy to listen to.  What might add to the interest in Cooper and his music is the fact that he writes engaging blog entries on his website, so not only can you give him a listen but also read about various road stories and movie reviews.  Someone drop me a line when he posts of picture of himself getting sawed in half, okay?

Castanets – In the Vines

July 8, 2010 Leave a comment

Asthmatic Kitty Records, 2007

A rather plain, bleak cover with what look like weed shadows is what this album presents as a ‘come buy me’ strategy.  Hmm.  The even more plain back cover simply lists the song titles (yo, withOUT track numbers, man) and leaves one to ponder why anyone should take a gamble on this one.  It had to be something that involves a sad singer and a guitar, perhaps with a banjoing band or sorrowful piano.  It definitely doesn’t say ‘disco’.  Well, like anything that looks like a dollar can be thrown at it, I gave in.

The record begins with the pensive strumming of Ray Raposa’s guitar on “Rain Will Come”, with his nasally vocals sounding similar to Bob Dylan in the back of a echoic garage somewhere.  Suddenly, some kind of electrical feedback screeches into the tranquility for the remaining four minutes of song.  Ah, whatta intro.  It was a great song up that point, though.  I had to wonder at this point if this was going to be some sort of turbulent, experimental folk ride.

Nope, turns out it’s a slow indie folk kind of album.  There’s lots of pretty slide guitar in the background as well as a very, very minimal amount of drum … machine.  It definitely sets a certain tone.  Since all of the songs on the record are of the snail’s pace variety, so one has little choice but to pay attention to the lyrics to see what they’re about.  That’s where Raposa apparently stores the energy, for the lyrics seem to contain a real personal insight about Raposa’s thoughts about life, etc.  Since I can be a bit thick, and there’s nothing in here that sounds like boozing it up and wild dance parties, it was all lost on me.  Oh well.

After awhile these plodding tunes start to meld together, but “Sounded Like a Train, Wasn’t a Train” has a steady guitar strum that is oddly riveting.  Even with Raposa’s vocals penetrating the starkness of the song, the moody prettiness can get one mesmerized.  With that feeling, however, one also can miss the impression of each individual song.  Is that what Raposa wanted?  Background music?

Here’s where you can listen to some Castanets, especially if you plan on going to bed soon: MySpace or RcrdLbl

I have to admit, Castanets aren’t my usual choice of music to throw in and listen.  I know there’s some kind of musical value here, and I’m probably just an ogre and am totally missing it, but yeah, it’s there.  I just can’t imagine sitting down and wanting to play this whole thing repeatedly, especially when I’ve got -the- Bob Dylan in the stacks nearby.  However, I guess if one wants a more modern take of that folky sound, this record is a good place to find it.

If you like this kind of music, you can rejoice (quietly, with feeling) at the fact that there’s been a few more Castanets releases since this record was put out.  I imagine if you listen to a couple of these Castanets releases back to back you’ll eventually start crying.

The Ditty Bops – Moon Over the Freeway

December 30, 2009 Leave a comment

Warner Bros Records, 2006

I had vaguely heard of the Ditty Bops based on their successfully accepted debut record that had a rather eye-catching album cover, so since I hadn’t actually heard the duo, I figured picking up their follow up might be of interest.  I certainly knew this wasn’t going to be the typical rock’n’roll grab that I usually aim for because, well, two barefooted women and a casually illustrated album cover usually doesn’t scream loud guitar solos are contained within.  However, artfully and creatively done black and white album covers does tend to require a pick up no matter who the artist is, so I was more than glad to give these ladies a spin for a dollar.

Abby DeWald and Amanda Barrett are the two women who comprise this group that is supported by a few musicians when needed, but it’s interweaving vocals of the ladies that really drive this record.  The ladies can sing soft and smoothly or infused with immediacy when required, though in either case the voices are pleasing to the ear.  The spirited playing of DeWald’s acoustic guitar and Barrett’s mandolin also add to the charm and accessibility that each song brings.  The first song off the record, which also happens to be the title track, is essentially what one can expect throughout the record.  It has the pep of the band and the ladies’ velvet vocals that easily sweeps the listener up into a comfortable mood.  A couple songs, like “In the Meantime” and “Get Up ‘N’ Go”, shows a little more muscle in the variety of instruments that the Ditty Bops employ while simultaneously displaying how the ladies can sing with a more chippy, urgent air.  The duo also performs a fine, if not safe, cover of the Everly Brothers’ “Bye Bye Love”.  It’s a nice version of the song, but the Ditty Bops mostly excel with their own compositions.

Even though they don’t have the same bomp and pow, the Ditty Bops somewhat remind me of the Squirrel Nut Zippers. The duo give off an old, simplistic style that doesn’t try to overwhelm the listener with effects and force yet succeeds in inspiring toe-tapping using bright vocals and peppy musicianship. I can certainly appreciate that in this day and age and I know that many people would benefit from adding this record to their collection, for it can easily be spun to assist in building the mood for a party or in maintaining a mood while writing a paper. Simply put, it is a record that provides energy without being too intrusive, and that is one of the many qualities of this record that deserves the great Golden Dollar award.  In case you’re interested, the Ditty Bops have put out a more recent record in 2008 that one may want to check out if one is into this kind of crisp, folky sound.