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James Carragher (New York)
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Essential Spirit Of Country
Essential Spirit Of Country
Offered by Vanderbilt CA
Price: CDN$ 58.95
7 used & new from CDN$ 42.49

5.0 out of 5 stars No Quibbling, Oct. 7 2003
At least half the songs on this collection are among the finest country songs ever recorded, some because they are flat out great songs (She Thinks I Still Care, Wine Colored Roses), some slight but made much more by the seen-it-all, drunk-it-all, sung-it-all Jones voice. List 'em -- Why Baby Why, Just One More, She Thinks I Still Care, We Must Have Been Out of Our Minds, The Race is On, A Good Year for the Roses, The Grand Tour, Golden Ring, and the incredible streak of cuts 8-14 on disc two -- Two Story House (story in both senses of the word of course), He Stopped Loving Her Today, I'm Not Ready Yet, If Drinkin Don't Kill Me, Still Doin' Time, Same Ole Me, and Yesterday's Wine. You are talking over 30 years of material here, add another 15 to bring us up to 2003 (see his last two CDs and you will have no doubt that George's quality has stayed superb) and that's nearly half a century of song stories that ring as true, sad, and life strong as the first time heard.
This CD belongs in the collection of every person with the slightest interest in country music. Ol' George has peers, Johnny, Merle, Willie, but no one is his better.
Couple last random thoughts -- 1) God, I miss Tammy Wynette. 2)Let's be honest, it wouldn't be George if there weren't a couple of over the top, corny dregs -- The Ceremony and Her Name Is are my nominees. 3) I wish he'd written more in the 70's and 80's. Looking at the early songs, I have to think that his great material from those decades could have been even finer mixed with some of his own compositions.

Do The Collapse
Do The Collapse
Price: CDN$ 16.97
23 used & new from CDN$ 0.98

4.0 out of 5 stars Sneaky Good, Sept. 21 2003
This review is from: Do The Collapse (Audio CD)
OK, so maybe this is no news to Guided By Voices fans, but to these relatively unfamiliar ears, this is a CD that -- while I don't get it out too often -- gets better with each play. Arrangements often rock and are never less than melodic. Lyrics are intelligent and (very) offbeat. Each song is distinct, albeit usually unfathomable, and the Voices will never be accused of being a one-sound group. Teenage FBI, Things I Will Keep, Dragons Awake!, and Liquid Indian are the four best of this excellent collection.

Shadow of Ashland
Shadow of Ashland
by Terence M. Green
Edition: Paperback
12 used & new from CDN$ 1.71

3.0 out of 5 stars Ho Hum -- More Time Travel, Sept. 20 2003
This review is from: Shadow of Ashland (Paperback)
Shadow is a competently plotted and executed novel, which takes as its departure point a man's search for his long-disappeared uncle who appeared to his mother on her deathbed. Reality, vision, near-death hallucination, it's never clear what she saw, but not long after her death letters from the missing man, written fifty years before just after he abandoned Toronto and headed south to the U.S. in the depths of the Great Depression, begin to arrive. Navigating by the trail of postmarks the nephew reaches Ashland where he encounters his again young uncle one midnight outside the hospital where the uncle worked briefly. Soon he travels back to Great Depression Ashland and is deep into a farfetched miners' plot to rob a bank. There is plenty of trenchent commentary on the rich, much third person detail of depression suffering (recounting the deaths of children is a favorite theme), a love triangle, a new romance for the jaded but brittle narrator, praise for Fr. Coughlin, the Nazi-sympathizer priest who captivated radio audiences in the Thirties, and some fairly stilted dialogue meant as romantic banter. None of this engaged me much, however, and I finished the short novel with nothing more than a sense of another book read and not likely to be long-remembered.

Lunapark
Lunapark
Offered by FastMedia "Ships From USA"
Price: CDN$ 70.51
9 used & new from CDN$ 10.47

5.0 out of 5 stars Consistently Fine, Sept. 8 2003
This review is from: Lunapark (Audio CD)
In the case of Luna, first may be best. I have four of their CDs and this is my favorite, cut for cut, although both Bewitched and Penthouse come very close. (Pup Tent's the other and I find much of that one erratic.)
One would have to be remarkably churlish to not like a CD in which the first line after nearly a minute of lullingly lazy guitar/drum playing is "You can never give the finger to the blind." Or how about "Soho's got the boots/Noho's got the crack/New England's got the foliage/but I ain't going back," also from the first song, Slide? Askew lyrics backed by insistent, but laid back and unobtrusive -- well, there is the occasional wa-wa pedal reverb -- arrangements mark nearly every one of these songs. Most involve Wareham's romantic entanglements, which bemuse more than anger him. As violent as he gets is Slash Your Tires, and that's only in his dreams. Goodbye and We're Both Confused, the two fine closing cuts, are more typical, bittersweet and tinged with "if-I'd-only-done-this" regret. And when love works, as in Nasty People and I Want Everything, Wareham understands that it makes one a better person in every way, "all my nasty habits are walking away." Smile and the eager I Can't Wait are the closest Lunapark gets to loud, with fuzzed and reverb sound partially masking the vocals. Probably the weakest cut is the short (2:04) Time, with a slight story and light Nashville lilt to the guitar work.
A definite buy.

Suburban Light
Suburban Light
Price: CDN$ 19.34
9 used & new from CDN$ 7.98

3.0 out of 5 stars A Bit Too Sensitive and Fey for Me, Thanks, Sept. 2 2003
This review is from: Suburban Light (Audio CD)
Nothing wrong with this CD, it's plenty listenable and even enjoyable. But after ten or so cuts I got tired of the same mood blend of guitar, bass and reverb, the same vocals floating just behind the instrumentations so that the lyrics were steadily elusive (lyrics not included in the liner notes). Cut loose, gimme some noise, guys, or at least a different style of soft. If I were a college sophomore who'd just been dumped by my girl or boyfriend, I'd probably want to curl up under the covers all day with this CD, but I'm not and I don't.

Up North
Up North
Price: CDN$ 20.39
13 used & new from CDN$ 10.41

4.0 out of 5 stars The Parts are Greater than the Whole, July 25 2003
This review is from: Up North (Audio CD)
This is a 'tweener -- could have been three stars, but I opted for four. Mid-tempo alt country on almost all the cuts and therein lies the problem. Listening to the songs individually, one thinks "all-around good stuff," lyrics, music, playing, singing, but after 13 very similar cuts one is also left with the feeling that the Voles could use a bit more variety in approach and arrangements. At the end of the CD, it's very hard to go back and distinguish the parts -- but the highlights, when you do, are "I'm the One for You," the title cut (a sound that is frequently repeated in the other tunes, e.g. Back in Your Heart, Please Come See Me, and Hope You Know), and "Something Broken." There is plenty of talent here, but it is also easy to see why the Volebeats have gotten lost in the tidal wave of alt-country music -- not a whole lot sets them apart from the talented crowd.

Road Fever
Road Fever
by Tim Cahill
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 12.24
52 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars Read It Fast, July 23 2003
This review is from: Road Fever (Paperback)
You probably can't race through it in 23 1/2 minutes, a minute for each day of Cahill and partner Gary Sowerby's Guinness World Record trip from south of Ushuaia, Argentina, (a lovely little city, by personal and Road Fever testimony) to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, but you should speed through the pages as they sped along the roads. The trip was in 1987 and would be impossible today because some of the route through Colombia is under violent guerrilla control. I would have liked much more of the trip and much less of the preparations. The logistics of preparing for long-distance race driving are staggering, but -- alas -- they are also not very interesting and well over a third of the less than 300 pages cover the getting ready. Once on the road some of Cahill's descriptions of the people and terrains through which they drive are terrific, especially the accounts of the Atacama desert in northern Chile and especially scary driving through Central America. I'd have liked more of that, but too much of the writing is of the "by five o'clock we reached x where we stopped for gas and got directions out of town" variety. Kind of like reading your MapQuest driving directions; they fill space, (usually) get you there, but are more functional than interesting. In the end, while I enjoyed Road Fever I thought it would be more fun than it was. Final note: absence of a map or maps is inexplicable.

Cadillac Jack's #1 Son
Cadillac Jack's #1 Son
Price: CDN$ 24.42
19 used & new from CDN$ 14.53

4.0 out of 5 stars Small Town, Big Sound, June 26 2003
This review is from: Cadillac Jack's #1 Son (Audio CD)
How good is Cadillac Jack?
This good -- the least interesting cuts are roots rock songs in the style of the late, great Blasters (Fast Train, Blue Collar Dollar, Looking for the Killerman, plus two more). Problem, the only one in my view, for the CD is that five pretty much indistinguishable songs -- even if spread through the 12 tracks -- is a couple too many.
With that quibble out of the way, to the praise. Company Car: drum downbeat rocks into the story of a couple of would-be big guys in a small town going from bar to bar and showing off one's new "Detroit diamond" with his uncle's business name stenciled on the side. Pauline: maybe the best, "big Mama drives that Lincoln like a smoking battleship/so Pauline, sixteen, can stand out in the cold/shiver as she listens to the rock and roll show..." What a nice Mom, letting her little girl get close to her dream, even if she never does get out of East Moline, as Mom probably knew would happen from the start. Simply a great mid-tempo snapshot of a young, circumscribed life. Lucy and Andy Drive to Arkansas: another rocker, these two do get out, to a pregnancy-driven elopement. Dissatisfied: strange little organ intro to the story of a guy who just can't get enough of the American dream for his wife, who has to settle for magazines and gum at the Stop 'n' Go. Nice duet vocal here from folkie Kate Campbell. Junior's Guitar: bluesman misses fame, dies bitter, but what he could do with his disappeared guitar. Evan Pick Up the Line: what happened to the ones we were wild with, what happened to our wildness, don't we as the years pass want not much more than to grab again that old friendship, a cold beer and a long drive. Heaven and the Hanging Tree: "reaching for the right place in balance" still and always.
A very worthy piece of work.

Radar
Radar
Offered by CAinsomniacs
Price: CDN$ 8.50
14 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars Where Have I Heard This Sound Before?, June 25 2003
This review is from: Radar (Audio CD)
That was the question I asked myself when I first heard a cut from 34 Satellite's Radar. Answer is The Silos and the reason is apparently, Walter Salas-Humara, who turns up here as co-producer and is the creative inspiration of The Silos. The linking sound is the simple but irresistible drumlines that backbone the best cuts here. In the late 80's Silos released their first, eponymous album, which included what is still one of my all-time favorite driving songs, I'm Over You. Salas-Humara always strikes me in his work as a guy who likes open roads, open containers, and open pharmaceutical cabinets -- sometimes in combination with one another. (Do not try this at home or behind the wheel!) That influence rubs off on 34 Satellite and while nothing here matches the best of the Silos, some cuts do nicely capture that sense of cutting ties (if not necessarily by choice), cutting loose, turning the alt country guitars and drums up loud and moving on. Keepers -- Vertigo, Remember, Riverside, No More, California and Engine Running. The slow songs (You and Fly Now) are to snooze through and Pretty Song is way too precious. 34 Satellite also commit the unpardonable sin of making you wait through better than fifteen minutes of silence for the hidden track. Three stars and some promise for the future.

Acoustic
Acoustic
Price: CDN$ 9.03
16 used & new from CDN$ 5.53

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More Here than the Covers, June 24 2003
This review is from: Acoustic (Audio CD)
For the first few listenings of the very subdued and eloquent Acoustic the covers caught all my attention. They are well-selected. Love is Strange from the near dawn of rock and roll still sounds fresh as Mickey and Sylvia sang it, but this update proves that the song transcends time and place. Tougher than the Rest is one of the Boss' less overexposed songs and Girl brings out all its determined beauty. Time After Time? Well, whether it's this version, Lauper's original, Eva Cassidy's or the Strictly Ballroom soundtrack, they're all worth hearing time after time. Alison is another inspired pick and while I prefer Rod Stewart's version of Downtown Train for its edginess, Girl gives the song a softness that also works.
Those five songs are so diverse and superb that they still dominate the collection, but two of the originals come close to their quality. One Place praises the joys of being anchored in a race-around life, Apron Strings does the same for a family life not lived. Both are memorable and grow with each listening. Me and Bobby D is not quite there yet, but it's starting to assert itself too.

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