This week sees new releases from Loudon Wainwright III, Fly (feat. Mark Turner, Larry Grenadier and Jeff Ballard), Marvin Etzioni and Sproatly Smith.
Loudon Wainwright III – Older Than My Old Man Now (Proper Records)
A poignant title, carrying the simple truth that at 64 LWIII has passed the age at which his father shuffled off this mortal coil, finds Loudon in reflective mood, but typically his observations are wryly funny, laced with self-deprecation and just enough acerbic bite to convey the weight of times passage. He surrounds himself with his musical family, friends and a few choice guest sessioneers, which makes for a stylistically varied record. Some of it is played strictly for laughs and My Meds is hilarious, fitting the note that Tom Lehrer was asked, but graciously declined to join the recording. I Remember Sex features a curious duet with Dame Edna, while Date Line riddles with the here and now.
In the title track he movingly quotes a passage written by the old man acknowledging the ghost of his own father looming large through his life. It’s a device repeated for The Days That We Die, with Loudon Jnr pondering his relationships with his children. The son picks up the thread with Rufus (a third generation) adding a tender, tear-jerk vocal. There’s a foolish longing for time over again, but Double Lifetime and 10 acknowledge its frustrating impossibility with sage and sombre humour.
[Reviewed by Simon]
Fly (Mark Turner, Larry Grenadier & Jeff Ballard) – Year Of The Snake (ECM)
This is the second ECM release for New York jazz trio Fly, featuring Mark Turner (tenor sax), Larry Grenadier (double bass) and Jeff Ballard (drums). Sharing composition duties and an enthusiasm for improvisation, they collaborate here as equals – Mark’s cool sax lines weave in and around the bass and drums with athletic ease, Larry plucks and bows carefully crafted responses while Jeff’s skittering percussion and tishing cymbal fuel the rhythmic interplay, teasing the best out of the other two.
The album’s shaped by the free-flowing, five-part improvisational suite Western Lands whose miniature soundscapes punctuate the compositions. Larry and Jeff lay down a funk groove on Kingston while Mark heads off to explore, but it’s not long before Larry’s rhythmic bowing takes over, building the tension and spurring the other two into a musical frenzy. Mark’s sax injects a slinkiness to Salt And Pepper and Larry feeds off the vibe as he travels up and down the neck of the bass; Year Of The Snake meanwhile finds all three of them bouncing ideas off each other in a concentrated, creative spurt. Thoughtful, intelligent jazz at its finest. Catch Fly touring Europe this week and next. [Reviewed by Sofi]
Fly performing Year Of The Snake
Marvin Etzioni – Marvin Country! (Nine Mile Records)
Marvin Etzioni was a founding member of Lone Justice and has subsequently worked as producer, collaborator and sideman with an amazing list of singer-songwriters and artists on the fringes of the alternative country and roots scene. Some of those, including his former band’s winsome lead singer Maria McKee, have gathered here to help him with the ambitious Marvin Country. It’s an impressive array also including Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle, Richard Thompson, Buddy Miller, John Doe and The Dixie Hummingbirds that should immediately grab attention, but as a multi-instrumentalist and fine singer in his own right, there’s more to this than the guest list.
The woozy, off-kilter mix of Americana songs about faith, love, hope, depression, Dylan, Kurt Vonnegut and his grandfather Harry Teitelbaum to whom the album is dedicated, highlight personal concerns for a free thinking man. Troubling titles like Bob Dylan Is Dead, Ain’t No Work In Mississippi (Part I & II), What’s Patsy Cline Doing These Days?, Living Like A Hobo and You Possess Me give further clues as to the sheer scale of the imagination at work here. Absolutely fascinating, absorbing and emotionally resonant, Marvin Country could be the destination of the year.
[Reviewed by Simon]
Marvin Etzioni – Lay It On The Table (with Lucinda Williams)
Sproatly Smith – The Minstrel’s Grave (Folk Police)
Welcome to the world of weirdlore – an alluring mix of found sounds, ethereal vocals and haunting songs courtesy of Ian Smith and his band of troubadours. Previously released by Reverb Worship in a limited run of 100 CDRs, The Minstrels’ Grave – their third full-length CD – has been remastered by Peter Philipson (The Woodbine & Ivy Band, Starless & Bible Black) and is now available via Folk Police.
Whirring noises, chattering children, soft vocals and sampled sounds greet the ear on the opening My Mother Said. The woodwind and birdsong that introduce Mermaid Of Marden conjure up the English countryside and Vaughan Williams before gentle voices and eerie sounds take over. Song For Annie Needham opens the lid on a musical box of treats while Blackthorn Winter casts its spell with girly vocals against a spangly backdrop of strings, flute, percussion and drones. Old recordings are cleverly spun together on Silver Threads Among The Gold before Sproatly embark on a seductive reworking of Maddy Prior’s The Fabled Hare and Alex Harvey’s Isobel Goudie over tinkling glockenspiel. A haunting version of O! Death is cloaked in drones, cymbals and theremin-esque wobbles; at the other end of the spectrum lie the electric guitars of Elysium. English psych-folk never sounded so enticing. [Reviewed by Sofi]