The Weekly Jive

Posted February 5, 2009 in Music

Sam Bisbee—Son of a Math Teacher (le Grand Magistery)

The rock roster is bloated with songwriters like Sam Bisbee—regular guys with modest means and talent who somehow pull together their artistic ambitions and financial resources to make a record with just enough hooks and narrative honesty to ensure they’ll make another one afterward. The rock world registers barely a ripple, and yet ever so often someone important takes note. In Bisbee’s case, somebody at FX is a fan, because two of his songs featured on the Glenn Close drama Damages led to a publishing deal and a new label, and made banging his head against the zeitgeist worthwhile. And it’s not quite all just TV hype: thick bass-lines, piano runs, and Phil Manzera guitar riffs create a glam-y, Roxy Music  anthem on disc-opener “Goodbye,” and the pulsing duet with Leona Naess “Never Fall in Love” could be a hit. Bisbee also capably knocks out more sparse and twangy singer-songwriter fare (“Verge of Extinction,” “Vermont”), but he’s sometimes too clever for his own good, (e.g., “throw your hands up in the oxygen”—get it?—on the painful “Oxygen”), and too often slips into over-earnest territory. Those missteps keep Bisbee among the masses, TV execs notwithstanding. (John Schacht)


Roger Joseph Manning Jr.—Catnip Dynamite (Oglio)

Roger Joseph Manning Jr. probably talks in memorable melodies. Like his former band Jellyfish, Manning has almost has too many musical ideas for mere mortals to comfortably take in. With seemingly endless options, this prolific keyboard player/singer/songwriter (who was also in Imperial Drag and Beck’s backing band) wrestles with a bell-bottomed artistic ADHD that can distract from the sheer quality of his sometimes quirky expressions. Manning’s influence on Jellyfish’s sound is obvious on Catnip Dynamite: the instant-nostalgia, helium-harmonied retro-regrets of tunes like “The Quickening” and the piano-based “Love’s Never Half as Good” instantly recall the more wistful moments of his ex-outfit. He’s much less effective on jaunty up-tempo efforts like “Down in Front,” which summon the vacuous, pre-punk pub-pop of 10cc and Mud. Sure, the mid-1970s never ended for Manning and consequently Catnip Dynamite sometimes oozes a deflating thrift store must, but if Rick Rubin were to focus this guy’s talents we’d be in pure pop paradise. (Paul Rogers)


Scott Pinkmountain & the Golden Bolts of Tone—The Full Sun (Howells Transmitter)

Jam-packed with a staggering amount of ideas, musicians (60!) and styles, Scott Pinkmountain’s first recording under this moniker raises the ante on the saxophonist’s recent attempts to blend avant-garde compositions, improvisation and traditional songwriting. Picture Titian and Jackson Pollack on the same canvas, or William Burroughs and Henry James on the same pages, and you’re in the neighborhood. Pinkmountain traces a love affair from fireworks-euphoria through betrayal and dissolution, which is probably easier to accomplish with lyrics. But the music parallels the narrator’s transformation: the 10-minute “Abyssinia” climbs steadily from small-combo folk song to chamber group twang as interpreted by Kurt Weill, Pinkmountain pleading throughout with his lover not to “tempt me to ruin.” The even longer “Unforgiven” morphs from full-orchestra nervous break-down into massive guitar-jam crescendo before a Bernard Hermann-like outro of cinematic redemption. It doesn’t always work—there are bridges and outros of mad cacophony with all the pitfalls you expect from free-form supernovas (especially “Supernova”), frilly Hammond lines push “Lucy” into prog rock excess, and opening every line on “You Gave Me This” with “I gave you . . . ” reads gimmicky. It’s a wild ride you may not want to take often, but one you’ll certainly remember. (John Schacht)






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