The Weekly Jive

Posted January 29, 2009 in Music

Phosphorescent—To Willie (Dead Oceans) 

Willie Nelson’s cachet would be safe even if he hadn’t penned so many bad-ass outlaw country classics, just smoked a lot of weed and forgot to pay his taxes. But maybe even more than Cash and Haggard these days, Willie has emerged as country legend Most Likely (and fruitfully) to Be Covered, from Carla Bozulich’s full retelling of Red Headed Stranger to the multi-artist tribute Twisted Willie. Matthew Houck, though, sounds like he was born to cover Willie; with his creaking, laconic vocals, troubadour-lifestyle, and rustic pacing, Phosphorescent music is already half-way there. In keeping with the record’s inspiration (Willie’s own tribute to Lefty Frizzell, 1975’s To Lefty From Willie), Houck digs deep into the catalog and adds his own voice. On some he goes against the gothic Phosphorescent grain, giving “I Gotta Get Drunk” a rollicking, Dylan and The Band feel, and turning “Pick Up the Tempo” into a gospel hoedown; more familiarly, “Can I Sleep In Your Arms” becomes a full-choir secular hymnal, and Houck cushions the bitter-lover irony of “Permanently Lonely” in acres of gentle synth. This may be a love letter to Willie, but by its own inspirational twists can stand proudly on its own. (John Schacht)


The BPA—I Think We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat (Southern Fried)

The mythos of this mixed tape transcends the reality, as who wouldn’t like to believe that there was a super-covert underground revolving door jam session in England’s south coast known as the Brighton Port Authority . . . with Iggy Pop, Dizzee Rascal, David Byrne and Martha Wainwright stopping by just to, you know, drop tracks? The heyday of this fictitious powwow was in the 1970s, when Pete Yorn—who has a classy little tune called “Dirty Sheets” on the album—was, at most, five-and-a-half years old. Norman Cook is allegedly the heartbeat of this legend, but that’s a cloak for Fatboy Slim, who is more literally the phatbeat. This is Slim’s project, and he scaffolds behind Iggy’s warbling lounge act in “He’s Frank,” the sunny pharmaceutical elegy of Emmy the Great’s “Seattle,” and Connan Mockasin’s helium-pop number, “Jumps the Fence.” But the pairing of Dizzee Rascal and David Byrne in “Toe Jam” steals the mettle in this one—“everyday is fuck-ing per-fect, it’s a paradise” Byrne croons, while Rascal staccatos about Hennessy and a sexy thang. Confusing matters is the David Bowie song “Island” that bursts out of a curtain of epic synths, a song that turns out not to be Bowie at all, but a Ziggy-channeling Justin Robertson, the Manchester DJ. Nothing will rap your knuckles on this one; here’s a “tape” that your music clerk friend at Amoeba might put together. (Chuck Mindenhall)


Nico Vega—Nico Vega (MySpace Records)

Bass-less L.A. trio Nico Vega bring oddly memorable melodies to their early 1970s sense of spontaneity and pleasantly punky irreverence. This long-awaited debut album is full of urgent, vividly organic rock & roll that’s more inclusive than abrasive. Deceptively cultured lo-fi beats and guitars both cinematic and garagey propel the smoky utterances of Aja Volkman, whose wonderfully recognizable, breathless timbre—somewhere between a sexaholic Siouxsie Sioux and a blues-rawk Björk—is well captured here, as is her sonic alter-ego: a huskily angelic, utterly wounded sound personified by the choruses of the otherwise stomping “Living Underground.” But while Nico Vega’s primal, Led Zep swagger and provocative aura survive the studio intact, without the unpredictable adrenaline of their live show and the intoxicating visual of the exotically doe-eyed, ballerina-gone-bad Volkman, too many of the band’s songs are exposed as being still too close to (accomplished) rehearsal room jams. Only on the lullaby-esque “Iron Man” do they deliver a tune that translates with or without the visceral charms of their never-the-same-twice stage assaults. (Paul Rogers)




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