CD reviews: Exile from normal ‘Street’ and some groovy ‘Vampire’ music
Can we put aside the worry that Vampire Weekend is a group of Columbia University preppies borrowing the sounds of Kingston and Soweto and, as much as anything, the foreign aesthetics of the Bronx and downtown Manhattan? Because Vampire Weekend, led by singer-guitarist Ezra Koenig, sure don’t seem stuck worrying about the authenticity of their efforts. They’re too busy actually distilling something original out of their iPod influences – and having tons of fun in the process. Yes, Paul Simon’s “Graceland” continues to echo, but “Contra” adds touches that Simon either didn’t have available or didn’t think of. “Cousins” drives maniacally forward on ska-punk guitar and drums – more Elvis Costello than Paul Simon – several songs feature strings that add another texture to the sound, and the techno idea of chopping up the beats for an ever-shifting rhythm runs through the album.Vampire Weekend plays the free Core Party in downtown Aspen on March 20.
– produced by Chris Goldsmith and Denson (Shanachie)Saxophonist-singer Karl Denson goes directly old-school on “Brother’s Keeper.” The album recalls the Meters and Sly & the Family Stone more than it does Denson’s other band, the forward-thinking groove group the Greyboy Allstars. Credited to Denson’s Tiny Universe, the album kicks off with “Shake It Out,” a shot of old soul built around a practically ancient keyboard sound, a female chorus of “yeah, yeahs,” and the steadiest beat imaginable. The ’70s analog sound is an ideal fit for the sense of conscience Denson reveals here, as he sings against war, and stands up for freedom, equality and brotherhood.The Greyboy Allstars, including Denson, perform a free show on March 26 at the base of Aspen Mountain.
– produced by Christina Marrs (Spanks-a-Lot Records)When I put this CD in, I thought it was the wrong disc, that it couldn’t be the Asylum Street Spankers, the Austin, Texas bunch known for their Vaudeville-inspired music and irreverent sense of humor. What I heard on the opening track was cut-to-the-bone gospel blues, serious and moaning with no room for laughter. But it was indeed the Spankers – I checked – and the album title, “God’s Favorite Band,” isn’t nearly as much of a joke as I would have guessed. The band – led by ringmaster/singer Wammo and singer-guitarist Christina Marrs – goes by the book here. Make that, the Book. They interpret traditional gospel – “Down by the Riverside,” “Last Mile of the Way,” and that opening track, Blind Willie Johnson’s “Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground” – and often they sound like their roots could be in a Mississippi church (and not busking on the streets of Austin, their actual launching pad). Wammo adds a few original tunes that reveal their offbeat essence; in “Right and Wrong,” he sings, “I ain’t got no problem with Buddha/ ‘Cause he’s a huge Nirvana fan.” But for the most part, the Spankers sound like they’ve been converted. To something.The Asylum Street Spankers play April 2 at the Wheeler Opera House.
– produced by Buddy Miller (EMI/Credential)More gospel from an unexpected source. Patty Griffin, known for writing character-oriented songs, gathered a bunch of friends – Emmylou Harris, Shawn Colvin, Jim Lauderdale, and producer Buddy Miller among them – took up residence in the Downtown Presbyterian Church in Nashville, and worked up a collection of gospel songs. The range is wide – black church songs, white Appalachian tunes, blues and hymns, the South of the Border “Virgen de Guadalupe” – and Griffin and Miller handle it all in praise-worthy fashion. Griffin contributes two songs of her own, including the warm ballad “Coming Home to Me,” that responds to the hellbound, fire-and-brimstone fundamentalist songs Bob Dylan wrote in his Christian phase.For such a well-made album, it’s strange that there could be such a misstep in including “I Smell a Rat,” a Leiber & Stoller romantic revenge song that strays badly from the firstname.lastname@example.org
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The state transportation department’s $2.6 million plan to rebuild the roundabout west of Aspen next summer and fall appears to be moving along on schedule based on two votes in the Upper Roaring Fork Valley last week.