A sampling of this summer’s sizzling sounds
July 28, 2005
Not only is the valley flooded with music these days, but with acts that are little known in these parts, some making their first pass through. And that’s a good thing.Even better, some of these musicians have forwarded advance samples of their work, fair warning of what they will be delivering when they get here. We start with the more anonymous artists, and work our way up to the familiar.Shannon McNally, “Geronimo” produced by Charlie Sexton (Back Porch)Singer-songwriter Shannon McNally’s recording career to date is a story of absurd delays, bad record label mojo and the like. “Geronimo” should cure all past woes for the 32-year-old. For one, the roster of collaborators – bassist Tony Garnier and guitarist/producer Charlie Sexton, both from Bob Dylan’s band; keyboardist Ian McLagen from the Faces – is bound to earn some attention.Throughout “Geronimo,” her second major-label release, McNally proves herself worthy of the company. McNally plays rock built on blues and country, but she finds all the flavors of those roots. On the wonderful opener “The Worst of a Broken Heart,” she conveys the vulnerability associated with country (and also throws a tiny bit of hip-hop underneath). On the next track, “Miracle Mile,” she has all the swagger of an experienced blueswoman, stating exactly what she is going to do: “Gonna sing it like a song / Gonna sing it mountain high.”
The songs are almost all of longing or pained love, but she gives them such vivid settings – deserts, wars, graveyards – that each has a life of its own. Beyond that, McNally’s voice, a rowdier, sassier version of Bonnie Raitt’s, carries “Geronimo” top to bottom. She finishes with a cover of Taj Mahal’s “Lovin’ In My Baby’s Eyes” that shows she does sweet as well as bitter.Shannon McNally performs Aug. 11 at Steve’s Guitars in Carbondale. Gabby La La, “Be Careful What You Wish For” produced by Les Claypool (Frog Prawn)Like Shannon McNally, California singer/multi-instrumentalist Gabby La La has a memorable voice. But there are clues – her name, her association with producer/Primus frontman Les Claypool – that La La’s will be memorable in a very different way.Sure enough, La La sings in a cartoonish falsetto that sounds like it would be the ideal background to Japanese anime. The voice makes the equally far-out lyrics tough to decipher, but the CD comes with a lyric sheet that reveals such gems as “All you ghosts don’t mess with me / And my jillie-mo-gillie-cuddie kid stuff,” from “Boogie Woogie Man in a Black Dress.” La La’s choices of instruments are equally apart from the norm: sitar, theremin, ukelele, accordion, toy piano.The campy quotient is high. But there’s something more to “Be Careful What You Wish For.” It isn’t derivative or nostalgic, but unique. And for all its strangeness, fundamentally musical.Adding to the weirdness, La La makes her Aspen area debut as guest vocalist with Particle, an electro-organic band that dwells in the jam realm.Gabby La La performs with Particle at Belly Up Sept. 1-2, as part of Jazz Aspen’s JAS After Dark series. She is also scheduled to appear with Particle on a side stage at the Jazz Aspen Labor Day Festival grounds.
deSol, “DeSol” produced by Franke Previte, Michael Lloyd and Steve Greenwell (Curb)Judging by the local reactions recently to Ozomatli and Yerba Buena, deSol should be well received in its upcoming appearances. Like New York City’s Yerba Buena and Los Angeles’ Ozomatli, the seven-piece, New Jersey-based deSol plays spunky rock with distinctive South of the Border flavors and accents. Like their hermanos, they switch between English and Spanish so quickly, often and effortlessly, that the language becomes a Spanglish hybrid. On their debut CD, the sound, especially the vocals of lead singer Albie Monterrosa, leans a bit more toward pop than the other bands; it wouldn’t be surprising if deSol has a bigger commercial breakthrough than Ozo and Yerba Buena. But the multiple percussions, the nylon string guitars and even the Santana-esque electric guitar make it evident where the band is taking its musical cues from.On “Spanish Radio,” deSol sings, “America is doing the Latin beat.” It rings truer and truer.DeSol plays Aug. 13 at Belly Up and at the Jazz Aspen Labor Day Festival Sept. 2.Popa Chubby, “Big Man Big Guitar” produced by Popa Chubby (Blind Pig)One of the physically biggest things in the blues, Popa Chubby – born Ted Horowitz – also takes a big approach to the blues. His sound is as big as his massive body, as in-your-face as the tattoos that fill his arms and the scowl on his face. Horowitz also has a broad palette in terms of material. Rock classics (“Hey Joe”), Neil Young (“Motorcycle Mama”) and Leonard Cohen (“Hallelujah”) all get the Chubby-style blues stamp. The New Yorker’s own tunes, virtually all with a gruff, even cynical edge, range from the 9/11-inspired “Somebody Let the Devil Out” to “Dirty Lie.” But when Chubby pulls out the Carter Family’s “Keep on the Sunny Side,” there is no hint of irony, only the joy of making big noise.Popa Chubby plays Aug. 26 at Belly Up.
Drew Emmitt Band, “Across the Bridge” produced by Emmitt (Compass)Former Leftover Salmon string-man Drew Emmitt said his desire to play acoustic music was a large part of the disbanding of his old group. He’s as good as his word on his second solo release, the first since putting Leftover down to rest. “Across the Bridge” jams at times; a cover of Dylan’s “Meet Me in the Morning” runs more than six minutes, and Emmitt’s “Out in the Woods” passes seven minutes. There’s a cover of a rock tune, Little Feat’s “All That You Dream” (with Feat’s Paul Barrère on lead vocals and slide guitar). And there’s a good-sized roster of guests.But the jams are all-acoustic – and tight, not sprawling. “All That You Dream” is slowed down, toned down and even jazzed up from the original. The guests – including Sam Bush, Del and Ronnie McCoury, and Stuart Duncan – are all from the picking world, and arrive with their acoustic instruments. And the jams, the material and the guests all center around Emmitt’s acoustic quartet, featuring bassist Greg Garrison, guitarist Ross Martin, banjoist Matt Flinner and Emmitt himself.The Drew Emmitt Band plays in downtown Carbondale Aug. 27.Lucinda Williams, “Live at the Fillmore” produced by Williams and Taras Prodaniuk (Lost Highway)
Alt-country singer Lucinda Williams’ Aspen debut, at last year’s Labor Day Festival, was a dud. Williams sounded fine, but gave the audience no hint of what was behind the dark shades she never took off. So maybe a live album is the best way to experience the mercurial artist. Sure enough, this two-disc set, recorded at San Francisco’s Fillmore in November of 2003, is a winner. The beautiful sound captures all of the nuances – Williams slurred drawl, Doug Pettibone’s pedal and steel guitars. Fans of Williams’ breakthrough 1998 album “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road” might feel they’re getting the finger again; none of that CD’s signature tunes are on here. But “Live” focuses on the two most recent albums, “Essence” and “World Without Tears,” which deserve as much attention. This might be the rare case of the recorded document being better than the original. Taken away from the remote stage persona, Williams sounds fully engaged here, giving her all.Lucinda Williams performs at Belly Up Aug. 16.Willie Nelson, “Countryman” produced by Don Was (Lost Highway)Willie Nelson assumes the guise of the Dread-Headed Stranger on “Countryman,” a reggae project whose roots date back a decade. It’s not watered-down; Nelson does everything but assume a faux Jamaican accent (praise be to Jah) in making a genuine reggae album. Most of the songs are from Nelson’s own pen, and while they don’t all fit with the typical reggae themes of oppression and freedom, they work. Nelson’s “Darkness on the Face of the World,” on the other hand, could be a Jamaican classic. He also covers a pair of Jimmy Cliff hits, and, joined by Toots Hibbert, reworks Johnny Cash’s “I’m a Worried Man.”Worried Willie fans should be reminded that Nelson and Marley have at least one common bond; witness the marijuana leaf on the cover of “Countryman.” And Nelson the reggae singer is a whole lot better than Nelson the ringmaster of his recent string of star-studded recordings.Willie Nelson appears Sept. 4 at Jazz Aspen Snowmass’ Labor Day Festival in Snowmass Village.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is email@example.com