6/30/17

The Jerry Cans: June 2017 Album of the Month


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THE JERRY CANS
Inuusiq (Life)
★★★★★

The Jerry Cans hail from Nunavut, Canada's far northeastern territory. It's 2 ½ times larger than Great Britain and France combined, yet it contains only 35,000 people, its capital, the Baffin Island town of Iqaluit has a fifth them, and much of the territory lies above the Arctic Circle. Two-thirds of the population is Aboriginal and more than half speak a first language other than English.  

Why the geography lesson? If you're going to put together a band that, as The Jerry Cans have done, is strong enough to appeal to a small but diverse audience yet gain enough traction to win some Canadian Music awards, you'd better be damned versatile. They are. Imagine a less countrified Ray LaMontague fronting a band with the good time vibe of Great Big Sea and you are on the road to getting the Jerry Cans, but you're still not there. This band can rock, toss of an Irish fiddle lick, tamp it down for some folk music, and still find time for some Inuktitut throat singing. That's impressive given that lead vocalist, the muscular- and raspy-voiced Andrew Morrison, didn't know a word of First Nations languages before he moved to Nunavut and fell for Nancy Mike, an Inuk woman (accordion, vocals).

Were it not for the growling breaths and unfamiliar language, you'd swear you're in a hipster club with dancers thrusting pumped arms in the air and belting out the "whooa oooaaa" chorus of "Ukiuq," which zips along to guitar, Gina Burgess' fiddle, Steve Rigby's drums, and Brendan Doherty's bass. On another song whose name contains—I kid you not—22 letters, the song feels like something Hawaiian mixed with pop rock song. I've no idea what Morrison and Mike are singing, but it sounds very, very cool. Then there's "Nirlit," filled with yips, barks, and an ever-gathering pace that's a prelude to a robust song with tinges of punk rock. Can this be the same band that slows things down for the acoustic "Tusaavit" or the piano-centered "Arnaluka?" Each would be labeled tender if Morrison's voice were smoother. But this band doesn't really do smooth for very long. Check out the reggae central groove of "Maikliqta," albeit one supplemented by everything from an infectious hook, some jaw harp, and a few other sounds I simply can't identify. Fancy something in an electric bluegrass mode?  Try "Paniarjuk" or "Isumagivappinnga." The Jerry Cans bring it home with the joyous "Anaanaga" and a repeat of the first track, which I gather translates "Northern Lights."

This record should erase any doubts you had that you're living in the Global Village. Listen. Dance. Enjoy. Just don't ask me to tell you what any of these songs mean. #Inuusiq

Rob Weir

6/28/17

Razor Girl a Good Reason to Cut the Hiassen Habit

RAZOR GIRL (2016)
By Carl Hiassen
Knopf, 333 pages.

If it’s set in South Florida; its characters include crooked businessmen, sleazy lawyers, Mafiosi, assorted lowlifes and dirt bags; and there are more drugs than CVS and Walgreens combined, it must be a Carl Hiassen novel. Is this formula growing tiresome? Yes it is.

Hiassen’s latest adds a few twists, including a redneck TV show clearly patterned on Duck Dynasty and a titular character whose talent is, shall we say, unique: a stunning redheaded femme fatale con artist whose talent is to set up shakedowns by bumping her car into the back of other vehicles whilst pretending to having lost her concentration during the act of shaving her crotch in preparation for a hot date. As her victims gawk at her panty-less womanly splendor, they become easy marks for awaiting muscle. Call it pubes for rubes. Her assumed name is—hey, don’t blame me—Merry Mansfield. And that’s not the worst of it.

This novel unfolds when Merry’s mark is Lane Coolman, a high-powered Hollywood talent agent in charge of Buck Nance, the lead bozo in Bayou Brethren, who is in Key West to do a stand-up gig. Buck's persona is a ruse as he and his brothers are about as Cajun as an Eskimo Pie; they were once an accordion band in their native Wisconsin. One part of the act is true, though: Buck isn’t very bright. Without Coolman to tell him what to do on stage, Buck stays in his TV character and proceeds to tell a bunch of racist and homophobic jokes—definitely not a cool thing to do in Key West. The audience rushes the stage and Buck flees for his life. But to where? He is helpless without his handler and manages to lose his wallet and his wits in his desperate flight. America’s top-rated TV star is soon a missing person.

Sound like promising premises? Let’s toss in a guy who worships Buck for telling it like it is: the even more dimwitted Benny “The Blister” Krill. Add Martin Trebeaux, the shyster head of a company called Sedimental Journeys, which specializes in stealing sand to rebuild washed-out beaches; a Mafia don named Dominic “Big Noogie” Aeola; and a lowlife product liability lawyer, Brock Richardson, who has problems. The first is that he wants to build a sprawling McMansion on land that would block the view of our putative hero, Andrew Yancy, who Hiassen readers met in Bad Monkey. Yancy was once a detective, but has lost the badge he desperately wishes to regain. He’s temporarily working as a health inspector in charge of lifting the licenses of filthy local restaurants, though lord knows standards are pretty damn low. So are Yancy’s morals, hard as he tries to reform. If only sleaze balls like Richardson wouldn’t mess with his view, or his fiancĂ© Deborah wouldn’t knock on Yancy’s door and offer a blowjob for help finding the $200,000 engagement ring she lost. I almost forgot to mention that Richardson also suffers the affects of one of the products for which he recovered millions for clients—one that’s like Viagra times a thousand and causes potentially dangerous erections, strong body odor, and penis-shaped skin tags to grow in the armpits. Deborah would leave the idiot, but the sex is phenomenal.

Somehow, Yancy and Mansfield will resolve all of this. Believe me when I say that the things I’ve mentioned are not the only absurdities in the story. There are nine-pound rats, strange tattoos, dubious archaeological finds, a spurned mistress, and one of the most preposterous hostage demands you’ll ever set eyes on. Except, I strongly suggest you don’t. I am aware that no one reads Hiassen having mistaken his name for that of Flaubert. I also confess to having consumed a few of his books like a naughty boy who has stolen a package of Oreos. There comes a time, though, when one must clean out the kitchen. In Razor Girl, Hiassen flunks his literary health inspection and I’m shutting him down—even if Yancy won’t.

Rob Weir

 

     

6/26/17

Debra Devi, Roger Street Friedman, Tracy Bonham: Leave It On the Stage

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This column is devoted to reviews of performers who leave it all on the stage. Some of them front bands, but they don't need a lot of fancy tricks; they just air it out. (Ellis Paul is one of my all-time favorites. No one ever leaves one of his shows thinking he mailed it in!)

Debra Devi is a sometimes yoga teacher, but when she straps on her Fender the New Jersey-based Devi is like a demon on the Garden State Parkway. Her debut release Get Free makes me wonder where she's been all my life. She's not blessed with a naturally big voice, but damned if that's going to stop her. Devi claims that the feedback on the Credence Clearwater classic "Suzie Q" inspired her to play guitar. Get that? The feedback. Check out tracks like "All I Need" and her gritty cover of "Runaway." to hear Devi slam straight ahead rock, her muscular guitar and stretch-it-to-the limits voice cutting across the percussion, bass, and keys. Somewhere along the line she also picked up some acid rock influences. On "Another Day" she's like a Fillmore East refugee. After a slow build on "Love That Lasts," she again lets loose with a spray of psychedelic colors. Punk rock gets its due on "Demon in the Sack." Want some attitude? Try this line: There's no such thing as too much sex. She fuzzes out some more on 02H23NO3, a song about a junkie. She also does a killer cover of Neil Young's "Needle andthe Damage Done" in which she adds electric echoes and a rock n' roll treatment that simultaneously makes it harder and more haunting. Her own "Get Free," though an unorthodox musing on playing guitar and yoga-centric clearness, also has a dreamy and opening run that reminds me a bit of Young's "Down By the River." Devi can also dial it down when needed, as she does in "Welcome to the Boneyard" or "When It Comes Down." Both of those songs also show how to make a small voice big. Devi has drawn PJ Harvey and Sheryl Crow comparisons, but her natural voice is closer to that of Parry Griffin, who also knows a few things about when to be soft and when to go large. Devi is forging her own path and it's one you'd be wise to follow. Hearing this record made me chuckle to imagine Devi as a yoga teacher. Talk about Jekyll and Hyde! Terrific stuff. This Jersey girl wields a mean guitar. ★★★★★ #DebraDevi

 Let's stay in the same general neck of the Metro woods for a moment. When you make your musical debut at age 50, as Roger Street Friedman did, you'd better give it all you've got. At 54, the Long Island-based Friedman is back with a second album, the aptly titled Shoot the Moon. Friedman draws comparisons to Bruce Cockburn and Colin Hay. I'd give a voice nod more to the latter, which we can particularly hear on tracks such as "Gentle Love of a Mother" and "Hideaway," especially the second with its slight hint of a rasp. All comparisons aside, Friedman is his own man and there's lots of diversity on this record. Several tracks employ a brass rhythm section. "Puffs of Smoke" has smoking horns, an R & B groove, and a downhill slide POV: Dreams they come and dreams they go/Just like puffs of smoke. The brass also gets a workout on the title track, which mixes funk and blues with the smoothness of a late night TV house band. Yet Friedman also likes to talk a walk on the alt-country side of things. "Pour Me Another" is Borderlands country, right down to the horns splashing just a few drops of mariachi to supplement lyrical references to margaritas. "Nothin's Worth Nothin'" is acoustic country folk about a lost soul, and "No SafePlace" lets loose a tidal wave of the down-and-outs: It's a livin' hell in my native town/They will rob you blind, they will cut you down/For one thin dime they will draw your blood/Been so much spilled it's a constant flood. Good stuff from start to finish, one that also makes musical detours into folk and pop, and makes a side tip to New Orleans. Let's also give a shout out to the fiddle and backing vocals work of Concetta Abatte. Speaking of backing vocals, one of them on the title track belongs to Amy Helm. Yep—Levon's daughter. ★★★★


Speaking of Levon, Tracy Bonham has a new EP titled Live at Levon Helm's Studios. For those who don't know, those studios are located in Woodstock, New York, and some of the proceeds of this project will aid the town library. Tracy Bonham was born in Boston, raised in Oregon, and knows about letting loose on stage. Not only is she a Berklee College of Music grad, she's also a former member of the Blue Man Group. That helps explain why "Devil's Got YourBoyfriend" has dramatic flair and an ominous tone that sounds straight out of "Sweeney Todd." Bonham, though, is a woman of many talents and moods. "Oh, McKenzie's Silver Waters" is a bit like what Emmy Lou might do with a song from the great Northwest. All of the songs are mined from Bonham's back catalog, and each highlights her versatility. "Tell It to the Sky" comes from her grunge period, with its fuzzy bass the only accompaniment to Bonham's voice until the song segues into something that skirts the borders of cacophony. But then there's Bonham fronting a band on "Lucky," and soloing on piano on the torchy, but poignant "Whether YouFall." There's a reason why she's a perennial favorite on this blog. ★★★★  #tracy_bonham

Rob Weir