CD reviews: New from DeVotchKa, Wood Brothers and Dawes
September 1, 2011
On “100 Lovers,” the Denver quartet DeVotchKa bears a strong resemblance to Talking Heads – or more specifically, to any David Byrne project. There is the spirit of adventure, a touch of humor (that can just as easily be called weirdness), flourishes of the cinematic and theatrical, a determination to cross borders and styles. And lead singer Nick Urata’s voice is Byrne-esque, especially on “Exhaustible,” which could have been slipped into Byrne’s 2008 album (with Brian Eno) “Everything That Happens Will Happen Today,” without too much suspicion.But if anything, DeVotchKa takes things a little further out, geographically, than Byrne tends to. The string parts are ubiquitous, and tend to lead the ears to Eastern Europe. (The band’s name is a riff on the Russian word for ‘girl.'”) The rhythms might come from the Balkans, or from the ’80s, or, on the pulsating “Contrabanda,” from Brazil. To keep the listener wondering, there are folky acoustic guitars, accordion, trumpets. It comes together nicely – and for all the Byrne touchstones, “100 Lovers” still sounds unique.DeVotchKa plays Friday, Sept. 9 at Belly Up Aspen.
produced by Jim Scott (Southern Ground)Chris Wood, bassist of the avant-groove trio Medeski, Martin & Wood, and his singing, guitar-playing sibling Oliver, are still giving their brotherly love to folk blues on “Smoke Ring Halo.” But this is the most expansive of their three albums, as they bring in a host of guests – keyboardist John Medeski, Zac Brown and Clay Cook from the Zac Brown Band, drummer Tyler Greenwell, and, on three tracks, a four-piece horn section – to fill out the sound. The music remains Southern and rural, but not always so folk-oriented. “Made It Up the Mountain” brings soul and gospel into the mix; “The Shore” and “Rainbow” are more like contemporary singer-songwriter fare, and both lovely. The Wood Brothers have to be counted as among the great musical side projects.Southern Ground is Zac Brown’s label – another reason to like Brown, who closes the Jazz Aspen Labor Day Festival on Sunday.
produced by Jonathan Wilson (ATO)The final song on “Nothing Is Wrong,” “A Little Bit of Everything,” is set in San Francisco, on the Golden Gate Bridge. There’s some misdirection going on here; despite the nod to northern California, Dawes is L.A. all the way.The band – led by singer-songwriter Taylor Goldsmith, and featuring his brother, Griffin – is from and based in Los Angeles. The group’s first album, “North Hills,” was recorded in L.A.’s Laurel Canyon, and was firmly tied to the Laurel Canyon folk-rock sound – Jackson Browne, Crosby, Stills & Nash – that was established in the early ’70s. “Nothing Is Wrong” (also recorded in L.A., at Five Star Studios) opens with “Time Spent in Los Angeles,” which engages in some classic SoCal mythologizing: “You got that special kind of sadness/ You got that tragic set of charms/ That only comes from time spent in Los Angeles.” The next track, “If I Wanted Someone,” doesn’t mention L.A. by name, but uses the phrase “Maybe cause I come from such an empty hearted town” (could be L.A., no?), and echoes “A Man Needs a Maid,” by former Angeleno Neil Young. There are times on the album – “My Way Back Home” – when you could almost swear that Jackson Browne was singing, which is not to be confused with the track, “Fire Away,” when Browne actually does add backing vocals. A more frequent guest, appearing on four tracks, is keyboardist Benmont Tench, known as a member of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers – and as a staple of L.A.’s local music scene. None of which should be considered derogatory. “Nothing Is Wrong” is a worthy follow-up to “North Hills” – well-made, easy-going folk-rock. But these guys could probably use a trip outside the firstname.lastname@example.org