PopMatters: Neneh Cherry – Blank Project

I reviewed Neneh Cherry’s new solo record, Blank Project, for PopMatters. It’s a special album, and definitely will be high on the list of my favorites come the end of the year.

Blank Project, Cherry’s first solo album in nearly 18 years, simultaneously sounds like both the culmination of Cherry’s work to this point as well as a purposefully low-key, low pressure, recording. The speed of recording and mixing – a mere five days – certainly played a part. Her vocals are imperfect yet all the better for it; the rushed moments and the occasional cracks that begin to appear as she reaches for notes, add to the intimacy and vulnerability on display. As The Cherry Thing previously showed, Neneh Cherry has matured into a vocal stylist of some note. She is able to slip off a beat, to emphasize not just the lyric itself but the sound of a phrase, to roll and shape a melody with a nimble tongue. While it may sound easy to sing around a beat, to do so in a way that strengthens rather than weakens a song is a rare art. Cherry does so in a style that seems natural and necessary, a way best exemplified by Nina Simone and Willie Nelson. Like those artists, she bends the tune to her own rhythm and brings a feeling of rightness when doing so.

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Last Rites: 5Q5A – Kult of the Wizard

Ian Chainey and I were quite smitten by Kult of the Wizard, so we got in touch with them to ask some questions. Thanks to the articulate and informative answers of guitarist/singer Aaron Hodgson, it came out well:

We live in an age where everything is at our fingertips, where every metal band that ever talked about cutting a demo has an entry in the Encyclopedia Metallum. But I’ll be damned if the best way to find something you like isn’t still through old fashioned word of mouth. Take Kult of the Wizard. A few weeks ago, I asked a buddy in Minneapolis if he’d heard anything cool lately; he responded with, “Oh yeah, a friend of mine put out some stuff last September. I think you’d really like it.” A few minutes later, he sent me the link to Kult of the Wizard’s first album, The Red Wizard; a few minutes after that I was being crushed by some seriously thumping doom.

Stacks: Scorpions – “Speedy’s Coming”

I wrote about Tokyo Tapes,  the live coda to the unimpeachable Uli John Roth era of Scorpions, for Stacks. Get the four studio records, and then nab the live album when you get a chance. Not quite as impressive as the studio work, but it has plenty of charms.

“Speedy’s Coming” is a perfect example of all that is both wonderful and regrettable about the album. Roth’s sound effect guitar lead-in firmly stamps his place as the missing link between Hendrix and Van Halen, as do his soaring, bluesy leads and smoldering solo.Klaus Meine does his best to sound like someone who learned his English pronunciation from lip-reading a deaf mute, a trait he has endearingly kept through 40+ years of singing and conducting interviews in the language. No one else pronounces the word “poster” like he does (that’s the word at the end of the first line. Listen again and be befuddled).The rhythm section is a rock; though they’re starting to lose the swing and replace it with a more metal-edged power and punch, they’ve got enough shuffle left to keep the song at a fast lope instead of a gallop.

Last Rites: Outré Monde – Arc of Ascent and Compactor

Outré Monde is a new regular column over at Last Rites where the esteemed Craig Hayes and I will be discussing bandcamp discoveries, both new and old, that cover the full gamut of our broad and eclectic tastes.

We stuck close to home for the first installment, chatting about a heavy psychedelic band from New Zealand and a release on a cassette label based in Denton, TX (with a hat tip to my friend Rob Buttrum and his excellent Out-Of-Body Records).

One persons poison is another’s nectar, and in the spirit of sparking the synapses into gear, Outré Monde is here to illuminate bands that might not be metal per se, but still retain plenty of elements of serious interest for the open-minded metal fan.

So, dig in and join in. The trip to the outer reaches starts here.

Stacks: Rush – “YYZ”

This week at Stacks I got out of my sick bed to write about the performance of “YYZ” from Rush in Rio, my favorite Rush album.

Few bands have as many live records as Rush, and few fan bases argue about their merits as vociferously. Unlike every other Rush fan I know, Rush in Rio is not only my favorite live Rush album but my favorite Rush album, period. Recorded in front of 40,000 rabid Rush devotees in Rio de Janeiro on the last night of the Vapor Trails tour, Rush in Rio is a single night’s performance instead of a compilation drawn from several shows. I’m fond of such documents; every concert has a singular energy, and though some songs may not be peak performances, there is a thread that ties a night together that no compilation can capture.

Stacks: The Georgia Satellites – “Don’t Pass Me By”

Wrote about one of the shoulda been huge bands, The Georgia Satellites. The Boardwalk: Live! is one of my favorite boots. Flat-out fun.

The band is white hot; from the opening moments of “Muddy Waters” to set closer “Route 66”, the Georgia Satellites tear through covers of the Rolling Stones, Eddie Cochrane, country classic “Long Black Veil”, Chuck Berry, and the Beatles, as well as a handful of their own tunes from both the debut and the then yet to be released follow-up. As familiar as “School Days” or “All Over Now” are to generations of rock and roll fans, one listen is all it takes to hear that in their hands they sound like Georgia Satellites’ tunes. They don’t change one lick of their own style to meet any cover even half way.

A note: I didn’t plan to write about a Beatles cover in the week of their bullshit anniversary, just as I hadn’t planned to write about Alice Cooper right before his birthday. Serendipity, folks.

Last Rites: Major Kong – Doom Machine

Threw together a short review of the new album from Polish doom band Major Kong:

BF-OR. Big Fuck-Off Riffs. It’s all Major Kong is about, and their second full-length album, Doom Machine, is a mission statement. As soon as the sample ends at the beginning of the opening title track, this Polish band turns on the BF-OR machine and goes for it. There are no vocals, no breakdowns, no twiddly, fiddly atmospheric bits. Major Kong dispense with frippery and finery, niceties and nuance; if you don’t like the first 60 seconds, you won’t like the album. This is all about huge, stupidly-awesome riffs that rattle around your empty skull and make you grin from ear to ear.