Friday, November 30, 2012

Dr. John-Locked Down; Nonesuch, 2012

The face that stares out from underneath that beautiful headdress is many years older than that featured on the classic, spooky-groovy Gris Gris, but, much to Disaster Amnesiac's delight, the music on Dr. John's most recent LP, Locked Down, fires on the same cylinders, draws from the same (even deeper, now) wells of gritty, funky music. I have had Locked Down on repeat for days now. It's an album that stands up to multiple listens, on multiple layers.
It's really as toss up between which should take top billing here: the Night Tripper's keyboards versus his vocals. I'll just start with the former and say that they are by turns piquant, juicy, spicy, and always always FUNKY. Mac has the full command of his instrument as befits an authentic Jazz player, which he truly is. His playing goes way beyond his sources, though, showing African, Psychedelic, Hip Hop, you name it, on Locked Down. As long as it's soulful, Dr. John's keys are on it. His mastery also shows in the spaces where he doesn't play; this album is a prime example of concision, fully on display from this American Master's playing. All the foregoing descriptions should in no way give the impression that Dr. John's singing/lyrics on Locked Down do not have an equally impressive and stirring effect on the listener. His trademark Big Easy paced hum has aged nicely, displaying a weathered knowing stride. His growl has deepened, become deeper with passage of time. Rebennack's lyrics seem to have deepened, too. They concern perhaps deeper issues than in the past, addressing the hurts going 'round these days, and the Love that transcends and heals them. His admonition "don't trip on loose wires" has felt particularly resonant to Disaster Amnesiac in the post-Election reflections upon the Great Internet Shaming and Insult Culture and its myriad "loose wires" at their keyboards. One can most definitely hear the echos of Hurricane Katrina, of lives lost to the fast lanes, but more importantly to the human resilience born of faith and courage in the face of societal tragedies. The list of blessings on God's Sure Good has brought Disaster Amnesiac to tears on multiple occasions. I'm convinced they'd make even an atheist reconsider.
Producer/guitar player Dan Auerbach deserves many kudos for his work on both sides of those duties on Locked Down. Disaster Amnesiac assumes that he was in charge of assembling the great band for the album, and man, did he pick well. The rhythm section of drummer Max Weissenfeldt, with his ultra crisp cymbal playing and clinic-level press rolls, and bassist Nick Movshon, with his deep, funky bottom end, push and pull the tunes; they achieve the effect of being laid back and moving forward simultaneously, a rare and glorious achievement. Multi-instrumentalist Brian Olive provides tight horn arrangements that add great color on several tunes. The occasional background vocals of the McCrary Sisters add nice, soulful Gospel feels. I also assume that it is Auerbach's screaming guitar solo on Getaway and his savvy North African-tinged sound on You Lie. Additionally, he and Olive play fine, gritty rhythm guitar parts throughout. Auerbach did one hell of a job on this album.
Engineer Collin Dupuis also did a hell of a job. Every instrument is clearly heard, every element emanates from the same warmly mic'd place. The listener is treated to a rich mix that features all of said elements in a fine, funky gumbo.
Disaster Amnesiac has enjoyed the hell out of Locked Down. Along with the obvious New Orleans feel, I hear Stax, Africa, Curtis Mayfield, and 1960's Psychedelic in the mix. If you've not already spent some time with its sublime grooves, it behooves you to do so. Get Locked Down, and you'll probably stay locked down with it for a while.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Mermen-Live at the Stork Club; Oakland, CA 11/23/12

Mr. and Mrs. Amnesiac dined on really great post-Thanksgiving Korean table top bar-b-q in Oakland's Korea-town before heading into the venerable Stork Club to chill out for the re-emergence of the Mermen, an SF Bay Area eminence. These guys have been playing for a long, long time now.
Their sound melds Crazyhorse grit with Surf and maybe even some Progressive Rock into a mid-tempo, swirling psychedelic ride.

Above: Mermen full and solo. The parts make for a sublime Whole
It was great to sit and drift to the Mermens' well played instrumental guitar sounds. So simple, so stripped down (relative to so many other current approaches to guitar-based Rock), so right!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Kilslug-Sins, Tricks & Lies; Limitied Appeal, 2012

On occasion, Disaster Amnesiac sees Ted Falconi in West Oakland, and this makes me happy. I don't know Ted personally, but I love his band, and I love that fact that he seems to have stayed true to his vision. Disaster Amnesiac imagines Ted working on sculpture or tweeking his amp to get that singular guitar tone of his.
I say this as Sins, Tricks & Lies, the 11" record by Boston's long-standing Kilslug spins on my turntable, not to draw comparisons between them and Falconi's Flipper, but simply to praise them. You have to hand it to them, that they've stayed true to their vision as well. This red slab of backwards playing vinyl has the band sticking to the mid-to-slow tempo Heavy Rock inflected Punk Rock. The drums sound thick and heavily played, the guitars stick to simple, heavy riffs, and Larry Lifeless's declamations go way beyond simple sloganeering. You can't deny that the man has his own vision.
Kilslug make great Heavy Rock. Dunno if Lifeless is a visible presence around his Boston environs, but his band sure sounds pretty viable, years into it.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Grateful Dead-Dave's Picks vol. 4; College of William & Mary, Williamsburg, VA 9/24/1976

Disaster Amnesiac has had his hears full of Grateful Dead throughout 2012, in no small part due to it being the inaugural year for the Dave's Picks series. Here we are, winding down what will surely be recalled as one of the more contentious years in recent memory, and here I am, digging into the last quarterly installment of the series's 2012 offerings, College of William &Mary, Williamsburg, VA 9/24/76.
In the world of the Dead, 1976 has often seemed to be regarded as the Year of the Re-set. It was a period in which the band picked themselves up after various "big picture" (no pun intended) fiasco, re-integrated Mickey permanently, and initiated their penultimate re-imaging (the last being Brent's arrival/the Godchauxs' departure).
Disaster Amnesiac has always heard the Dead's 1976 offerings as somewhat ponderous attempts towards their then-current goals of reviving themselves as a touring act and refocusing on the music, having handed the business reigns over to an actual record company (please note the sticker on Jerry's Travis Bean "The Enemy is Listening").  Aside from a soul stirring version of Mission in the Rain, an achingly raw evocation from Hunter on the lyrical side and Garcia on the performance side, I have rarely taken much time to listen to Dead recordings from that year. I admit to being somewhat surprised by's choice of  a 1976 show to finish off this year's selections, but, having listened to this three disc set, I understand why they did.
The show starts off somewhat prosaically, even hitting an almost maudlin note during Looks Like Rain, but something happens during the late first set Tennessee Jed. Disaster Amnesiac has heard the simplest of elements, the quarter note pattern tapped on the hi-hat cymbals of Kreutzmann and Hart, as the auditory sign that the drummers are starting to mesh as a unit. The way that they lock in the early portions of the tune sounds pretty magical to me; the players out front seem to feel it, too, as Jed's slow shuffle is followed by a killer Playing in the Band.  This version of Playing is apparently legendary among Deadheads, and it's pretty clear why this is the case. All of the band's calling cards are on high display: Jazz-like inter-band interplay, quotes from other tunes (Jerry plays snatches of Let it Grow a few minutes into the song's lengthy instrumental passage, is this a signal of choices being made?), and an overall psychedelic spaciness endow its seventeen minutes with the kind of jamming flight that is so appealing to fans of the Dead's music. The fact that they partition the tune with a hot, tight version of Bob's Supplication (that's more like it rocker!) makes it all the more sweet for any Dead fan. 
The second set kicks off with a version of Might as Well that may be the best example of Garcia's innate soulfulness in the vocal department and Phil's booming bass punctuations, and blazes forward from there, mostly featuring the band's distinctive 1970's fare. It still strikes Disaster Amnesiac, how much Jerry loved the slow, ballad form; his renditions of Loser and Stella Blue here are fine examples of this. What were this man's shadows like? Perhaps the answer to that question lies in Hunter's admonition, "roll away the dew", and the Franklin's Tower in which that line resides is part of a so loose it's tight Help on the Way-Slipknot-Drums-Slipknot-Franklin's Tower-The Music Never Stopped-Stella Blue that again finds the band reaching  levels of instrumental/psychic interplay which only they could reach, in that and probably all other eras.  It's over thirty minutes of sweetly continuous prime 1970's Dead, moving from the mystery of Help on the Way, to the rudimental/tribal drumming entrainment of Drums to the jubilation of The Music Never Stopped, and the band sounds like they're enjoying and feeling every minute of it. The show's closing numbers, rocking versions of Around and Around and U.S. Blues wave spirited victory flags for the band as they seal the deal. Jerry's vocal delivery on the latter is particularly inspired, pointed in his peculiar, knowing cadence.
Within their grand scheme, 1976 proved to be a very important year for the Grateful Dead. It set the stage for the heights of 1977, and all of the subsequent strange developments for the quintessential band of misfits. Dave's Picks vol. 4 shows their wily beast  to have  been very much alive and kicking, sloughing off the cobwebs of "retirement" and kick starting the Good Old Grateful Dead into their storied second half.

Monday, November 5, 2012

ONO-Albino; Moniker Records, 2012

As has been the case with so many other bands, it was Joe Carducci's Rock and the Pop Narcotic that first brought Chicago's ONO to the attention of Disaster Amnesiac. While ostensibly falling outside of the scope of that absolutely essential tome, ONO was mentioned therein, albeit briefly, along with having been given a page or two in the appendix. Needless to say, I was pretty thrilled to finally hear them in  the late 2000's, when downloadable versions of their early LP's began to appear at various blog sites. I can recall one rain-drenched walk from a birthday party at Fisherman's Wharf to Embarcadero BART station, with Machines That Kill People providing a particularly unsettling soundtrack on my headphones, singer travis' deep tenor voiced incantations providing a surreal verbal soundtrack to said shuffled drenching.
Skipping forward three or so years, Disaster Amnesiac is pleased to be able to listen to all new recordings from ONO, in the form of Albino. Pleased, because the re-upped ONO essentially continues on with the same sound that they developed and honed all those years ago; a sound that draws from elements as ancient as shamanism or as current as post-Gangsta Rap (listen to travis to the album's ending track for that particular vibe), as earthy as Delta Blues or as Industrial as Neubauten post-Motorik beats. Head ONO musician P. Michael Ono seems to be able to amalgamate just about any stream of music, pushing out a heavy, heady, personal music, one of deliciously synergistic energy and flavor as regards influences. Disaster Amnesiac finds himself particularly moved by the greasy electric guitar intro to the album's title track and the brilliantly programmed beats and percussion throughout. The way Ono paced the music, never too fast, always throbbing and sensual, makes for an arresting, compelling listen. While not exactly Dance Music per se, Albino can no doubt inspire one to any type of movement. It is truly Body Music.The front body and human voice of the band, travis, croons his rich spells with such powerful phrasing and gesture. Do be sure and read Roctober #50 for a great interview with him. The man has lived, and his performance on Albino gives ample proof of that fact. He enriches and gives new depth even to Nico on All Tomorrow's Parties, giving this listener new food for thought on that chestnut of the Underground.
Disaster Amnesiac has read the Moniker has recorded more ONO since the tunes on Albino were tracked. I look forward to hearing more of their auditory spell workings. Here's to hoping that they can bring their ministrations out West.