Volume II, Issue IV Winter 2003

Outsight music column for January, 2004

By Tom Shulte


Outsight brings to light non-mainstream music, film, books, art, ideas and opinions. Published, somewhere, monthly since July 1991. Feel free to reprint this article. E-mail Outsight at outsight@usa.net

Outsight Radio Hours – Internet radio Webcasts with live interviews.

Mindy and more

One Moment MoreMindy Smith stood head and shoulders above her better known peers with her rendition of "Jolene" on the Dolly Parton tribute album "Just Because I'm A Woman: Songs of Dolly Parton" (Sugar Hill Records). Mindy's album "One Moment More" (Vanguard Records) proves that was no fluke. Smith's folk originals are just as compelling and powerful as that cover. Standouts include her gospel-folk songs, such as "Come To Jesus" ...

Rollicking, fun rhythms from Andre Duplantis (Alejandro Escovedo, Meat Puppets) on bass, piano and Hammond organ enliven the fun, spirited album "Ashes" from Jen Kraatz. There is a western and country blues feel to this largely acoustic album...

Emakhet is in touch with nature on "An Offering." The four-song EP with tone-coloring drones emanating from didgeridoo and synth is good background to pagan music and wandering the meadows in search of druids...

"Bessie's Last Stand" (Mungler Winslowe) contains excellent folk-pop from Canada's Crystal Brandt. The standout track is a very memorable tune about a delayed appointment with the devil, "Fire and Brimstone"...

Cold Weather On her Virt Records release "Cold Weather," Brenda Weiler offers moving, emotional songs for wistful snowbound listening, such as "Faucet" and "Christmas Sweater". Looking out across the snowy landscape brings the mind to distance and the distance that separates as in "Scatter", "California" and the standout track of this collection of songs, "Honolulu, Minnesota"...

Kate Fenner bears more than a passing resemblance in her vocal style to Joni Mitchell. This is a good thing and the bare, mostly acoustic arrangements on "Horses & Burning Cars" are an excellent showcase for this vocal style...

Fenner has a good song called "Alaska" on that album, and heralding from The Last Frontier state is Lili McGovern. Her song-oriented electric pop album "A Bare Calliope" contains an example of sounds of that steam whistle instrument as well as an excellent cover of Dave Carter's "The Mountain" ...

Rock & Rap Confidential

The following is from the lead article, "Cold Sweat," from the January Rock & Rap Confidential:

"... prominent is Sean "Puffy" Combs (aka P. Diddy). He declares that "I'm as pro-worker as they get," yet an October report released by the National Labor Committee (nlcnet.org) made headlines when it revealed that much of Combs' annual $325 million worth of shirts is made under sweatshop conditions at the Southeast Textiles factory in Honduras. Then, on December 19, NLC announced that Combs had brought about major improvements at the Honduran plant, including union recognition, health care, and an end to abuses such as unpaid overtime and contaminated drinking water ..."

Rock & Rap Confidential believes that the issue of sweatshops in relation to music-related gear will become a major controversy in 2004. The article, "Cold Sweat," takes an unflinching look at the real power relationships in the musical sweatshop game.

You can sign up for a free e-mail subscription by visiting Rock & Rap Confidential.

Democracy in action

Congress is very close to passing a national anti-spam bill, colloquially known as the CAN SPAM Act. In order for the bill to become law, both branches of Congress had to pass the bill in identical form. This has happened and President Bush signed the bill into law. Read about it here. I am most excited about the do-not-email registry that offers the hope of being as good as the do-not-call registry has been. (Have you noticed a decline in telemarketing at your home? I have.)

However there may be some problems, as this bill overrides state legislation. LinkShare has prepared a document that summarizes: 1) The CAN SPAM Act's major provisions; 2) How the CAN SPAM Act differs from California SB 186; and, 3) How the CAN SPAM Act may impact you. You can access it directly here.

In more news of government regulation that may make life better, a federal appeals court ruled that cable companies would have to let rival high-speed Internet providers use their networks. This means homes that can only get broadband Internet through their cable providers would then have a choice. If the new ruling survives an expected appeal, subscribers may see prices fall as competitors fight for their business. The Michigan for Open Access web site has much documentation in support of this cause. I am woefully unable to find a central, national source of information and activism on the subject. Is it out there?

DVD reviews

(Ratings on a scale of 0-5 stars)

Spiritual Journey* * *
Spiritual Journey
Bob Marley
Waterfall Entertainment/MVD

This DVD is bundled with an audio CD of 14 tracks, including "Trenchtown Rock," "Lively Up Yourself" and "Soul Shakedown Party." There is also a glossy, 32-page booklet with full-color pictures and an overview of Marley's life and the band's career. Clocking in at just under an hour, the DVD documentary is mostly interviews with his son Ziggy Marley, the former Jamaican prime minister, as well as friends and associates of Marley. A lot of attention is given the assassination attempt on Marley, his political side, his international success as well as anecdotes. It is interesting to hear the slightly different points of view on different facets of Marley's life.

Athens, Georgia: Inside/Out* * * *
Athens, Georgia: Inside/Out

This early documentary of the fertile Athens, Ga., scene focuses on Flat Duo Jets, Pylon and B-52s. Also covered, including live concert footage, is B-B-Que Killers, Love Tractor and Squalls. There are more bands covered in this rich feature about young musicians making big things come out of a small town. A very different Michael Stipe (R.E.M.) drinks beer in his pajamas on a stoop as he discusses Athens. This DVD edition of the 1987 film includes such bonus material as a new chat with Kate and Cindy of the B-52s as well as Widespread Panic's David Schools and more.

CD reviews

(Ratings on a scale of 0-5 stars)

French Cafe* * * ½
French Café
Various artists

This compilation joins classic (Barbara, Serge Gainsbourg) and modern French music (Paris Combo, Coralie Clément) for a delightful, sunny al fresco sampling. As such, there is champion and disciples of chanson, gypsy jazz and bagpipe-imitating musette. The casual but swinging, sophisticated but earthy style suggests the café culture of artist bohemians and revolutionary poets.

Selected Planets* * * *
Selected Planets
Samuel Pellman

Pellman gives us a tour of each member of the solar system on this digital travelogue of earth and its neighbors. Each planet is a unique world and each gets unique treatment in this ambitious opus. The instrumental music suggests the cold reaches of space with electronic tones and entrance into the planetary ballet of the human machine with vintage analog synths. This is perfect headphone music for vicarious flybys of these celestial wanderers.

Sang9* * * *
Sang 9
Various Artists

This compendium features twenty new artists pushing the boundaries of musique actuelle. The Ambiances Magnétiques label (a.k.a. DAME) has a strong roster in genre stalwarts Robert Marcel Lepage, Jean Derome, Martin Tétreault and more, but this collection shows the future is bright with a spectrum of new, fresh talent. The assembly of talent runs the gamut from electro-acoustic to astro-jazz and from third stream to rock in opposition. Fresh and exciting, it is post-all so very much and a highly promising cornucopia of fresh ideas.

The Heart, the Product, the Machine and the Asshole* * * ½
The Heart, the Product, the Machine and the Asshole
The Beatings
Midriff Records

"Transvestite Bar," the 6-minute cross dressing blues, is worth the cover charge for this six-song album of post-country rock. It's tragic and heartfelt, vivid and hilarious. The album is full of hiss and fuzz, a lo-fi approach that is dark and direct. The formula for the band is to keep simple and plow through the song undeterred by the possibility of drastic change. Far from being monotonous, this adds impact and strength to these masters of a mighty minimalism. The last song, "These Days Will Be the Old Days Someday," has the propensity to anthemic if slow wave memorability also displayed in the pronounced chorus of "Transvestite Bar." Tuneful if melancholy, potent if predictable, The Heart, the Product is an exquisite album.

Deeply Faulted Area Resembling an Upright Deck of Cards* * *
Deeply Faulted Area Resembling an Upright Deck of Cards
Electronic Barnacle Island
KiraKira Disc Records

Aaron Noel entirely composed and performed the music of Deeply Faulted Area Resembling an Upright Deck of Cards. The instrumental electronic music is an interesting juxtaposition of floating, will-o-the-wisp melodies and angular rhythms. Noel claims George Winston as well as the early work of Vangelis and Tangerine Dream among his influences, so this explains the eerie, melancholy melodies. The post-industrial, mechanical beats are of a more contemporary stripe.

61 Old Depot* * *
61 Old Depot
Lou Dog
Lou Dog Music

Lou Dog has a heavy emphasis in his guitar rock that recalls Hamell on Trial. He emphasizes each word, which gives his deliberately delivered rock songs a narrative quality. This is music that looks back to the birth of truly vital rock music, from The Replacements to Velvet Underground. The music is direct and honest, unadorned and basic.

Risque et Pendule* * * *
Risque et Pendule
L'Ensemble Pierre Labbé

Avant-garde reeds man Pierre Labbé plays tenor saxophone and flute on this, his first album as a leader. Labbé has also worked with Papa Boa, Claude St-Jean, Pierre Dumont and more. This music draws from the third stream of free jazz blended with chamber music. He leads his ensemble through wild but precise romps featuring violin, viola, electric guitar, acoustic bass and traps. It is Bernard Falaise (Miriodor) that plays the guitar and some of the music recalls Miriodor. While some of this instrumental music never seems to fulfill its promise ("Combat de Coqs"), the album is itself a very promising debut.

Year of the Snake* * * *
Year of the Snake
Ken Field's Revolutionary Snake Ensemble

Ken Field leaves behind his Apollonian cerebral music to revel in the funkiness of a New Orleans brass band. Revolutionary Snake Ensemble is a New Orleans brass band that plays Sun Ra ("Calling All Demons"), James Brown ("Soul Power") as well as Scofield ("Some Nerve") besides its own Big Easy-inspired originals. It is interesting because this masterful sax man with a talent for the edgy and progressive avant-garde music here subsumes this particular side to incarnate a Mardi Gras mood with rhythm music. Throughout there is a strong second-line style in the tradition of Rebirth Brass Band and The Dirty Dozen Brass Band. This is a party band with a great horn section. The all-star Boston band includes members of the Either/Orchestra, Hot Tamale Brass Band, Binary System, Clem Snide and more.

Very Exciting!* * *
Very Exciting!

Australian punk trio Hard-Ons has spent over two decades exploring metal-punk fusion and (often) snotty, foul-mouthed indie pop. Consider the trio of songs "Radio", "Cat's Got Your Tongue" and "Pimple Boy" on this new release. "Radio" is a sunny indie pop single about not getting a single on the radio, while "Cat's Got Your Tongue" is death metal worthy of Deathtöngue and "Pimple Boy" is hard punk rock. The band is still having fun and success in metalcore music. I once started Scruffy Tearaways, my own punk 'n' metal act in the '80s, inspired by Hard-Ons and others. While this album is not as memorable and hilarious as the group's '80s releases such as "Dick Cheese," it is still a worthy album in the group's formula of toilet humor and punk with metal in a vicious blender.

Le Batteur est le Meilleur Ami du Musicien* * * * ½
Le Batteur est le Meilleur Ami du Musicien
Guigou Chenevier
In Poly Sons

With this compilation, Guigou Chenevier (Les Batteries, Etron Fou LeLoublan) explores the melody-inferring possibilities of percussion as distinct from rhythmic chores. That is, these works were created in a "backward" fashion by giving the musicians they rhythms as a starting point. Musicians that ably took up the challenge include Haco, Jean Derome and Sue Garner, among others. Aside from one Guigou Chenevier solo track, the other eleven selections represent musicians from around the world responding creatively to Chenevier's drum tracks as the germ of a new piece. The last piece is that solo work and is an open invitation for any musician to "finish." The works tend to be odd and angular pieces (Kenji Itoken, "Odd or Even") or floating, disembodied and haunting (Sue Garner, "Eggs, Salt, Vanilla"). Since no one answered with a "song" or a "tune", this is a compendium of oddly inspiring experiments.

The Rock Horror Punk Rock Show* * * * ½
The Rocky Horror Punk Rock Show
Various Artists
Springman Records

You just cannot go wrong covering the songs from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." This begs the question – would the film be half the cult success without the great music? As someone who used to spend every weekend as Rocky in a tight-fitting yellow swimsuit and gold, spray-painted tennis shoes, I really love this punk rock take on the songs. Some standouts are "Hot Patootie – Bless My Soul" (The Phenomenauts), "Sweet Transvestite" (Apocalypse Hoboken) and "Eddie's Teddy" (Swingin' Utters). However, the are really no dead spots in this rocking set of covers that also includes Me First and the Gimmie Gimmies, Groove Ghoulies, Pansy Division and The Ataris.

Kid in a Big World* * * * ½
Kid in a Big World
John Howard
RPM Records

The vivid imagery and crystalline soul vocals of songs like "Goodbye Suzie" recalls Elton John on this extended reissue of John Howard's 1975 album "Kid in a Big World." The CD debut of the album is extended by seven tracks. These include demos, extra tracks from the album as well as the single b-side "Third Man" and an alternate mix of "Goodbye Suzie." Howard himself, looking back, notes the narrative and imagery of these songs. Says he, the songs "reflected the fantasies, dreams and observations from a young guy from the North of England." Fortunately, this "young guy going, 'Listen to me, I've got something to say'" had a great way of saying it and great help in the studio. This included Abbey Road production by Tony Meehan with Peter Brown as engineer. Argent had two representatives in there, too: Rod Argent on keyboards and Bob Henrit on drums. This is excellent song-oriented Brit-pop that was, at the time, overwhelmed by the attention given to disco. RPM has done a great service in preserving this superb album.

Heart Trouble* * * * ½
Heart Trouble
Wanda Jackson
CMH Records

This collection presents the Queen of Rockabilly with a variety of featured artists doing such classic Jackson material as "Cash on the Barrelhead" and "Hard Headed Woman" along with newly written material, such as "Walk With Me". James Intveld wrote this gospel-styled song for Jackson. Among the guests on the album are The Cramps (backing on two tracks), Rosie Flores, Elvis Costello (both in duet) and a handful of tracks with Dave Alvin. The 65-years-old Wanda Jackson sounds great on this disc in the fifth decade of her career. One of several standout tracks is the duet with Costello on "Crying Time."

Full Moon Empty Sportsbag* * *
Full Moon Empty Sportsbag
Country Teasers
In The Red Records

Country Teasers is as much post-industrial as it is country. This is not alt-country, unless Butthole Surfers is alt-punk. This is the Country Teasers' first proper full-length studio album of new material in four years. The group approaches its rare, prolonged venture into the studio with fresh amazement, referring to the studio in "Boycott the Studio" and "Please Stop Fucking Each Other." This last title also brings up the fact that the group gleefully self-marginalizes with noise and four-letter words. This is not an album for the faint-hearted, but may be one for the jaded. Even though the group colors outside the lines and brings a rich palette of ragged, mechanical sounds to the table, very little of this material congeals into something truly memorable.

Guttural Shock* * * *
Guttural Shock
YLE Radio Vega

Stäni Steinbock and collaborator Reijo Lainela started Kra in 1980. The group's name comes from the raft used by Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl. The music by the long-lived Finnish group from the Swedish cultural of the contested Åland islands is also adventurous. Stäni has done theatric kantele music and Reijo founded Gamelan Hanuman, perhaps the only gamelan in Finland. The music combines all this into something exotic, but more equatorial than arctic – as well as organic and flowing but embracing the charm of traditional Nordic music. The group uses little of the instrumentation (fiddles, accordion, etc.) that has come to characterize the folk revival from that part of the world. In this music, guitar, drums and a horn section are occasionally adorned with musical saw, recorder and more, including gamelan instrumentation for largely instrumental pieces for a feel that could be ska meets the East.

Last Exit To Garageland* * * *
Last Exit To Garageland
Foodchain Records

The indie rock revolution of the late '90s produced an ocean of mediocrity and a few glimpses of genius. Much of that genius came from the ocean-bound island of New Zealand, like this debut originally issued in 1997. The group's subdued use of noise and catchy melodies brings to mind Pavement and late-period Sonic Youth. The group picks up where Pixies left off with catchy garage-pop. To the original 15 tracks are added eight bonus cuts. Most of this material was never released in the United States. This includes an inspired cover of "So You Want to be a Rock 'n' Roll Star" by The Byrds. By balancing the clamorous with the joyous, the group delivers winning indie pop.

Quadropus* * * *
Web of Mimicry Records

Like Jucifer, Estradasphere has one foot in death metal ("Jungle Warfare") and one in indie rock. The group also offers a blue-eyed rap-metal homage to big-time wrestling ("Bodyslam"). Every track is self-contained in the diverse genre spectrum covered by this wild and wacky release. There is also a hilarious tongue-in-cheek "At Least We'd Have Today," which is equal parts Motown pop-soul and Beach Boys. Skilled arrangements and a witty sense of humor congeals this grab-bag of styles into a jambalaya of impassioned musical schizophrenia. This mad experiment gets the blessing of Trey Spruance (Mr. Bungle, Faith No More), who testifies to the group's talents and arranged strings for "Speck".

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