'Screamin' and Hollerin' the Blues'
Thank god I don't have to pay for these things myself. I'd be broke!
Charley Patton didn't invent delta blues, but he came damn close to perfecting it on the five dozen or so tracks he laid down between 1929 and 1934. Sure, his vocals weren't as haunting as Skip James, and Robert Johnson may have lead a more mystical existence, but Patton had something on both of them: He knew how to play guitar exceptionally well, his sense of rhythm was unparalleled, and his raspy growl was just distinctive enough for the hundreds of plantation dance gigs he played. And, some 60 years later, his music still sounds as timeless as ever and as infectiously weird. Lavish would be an understatement for the seven-CD box set Screamin' and Hollerin' the Blues, a pet project started by the late fingerstyle guitar god John Fahey for his own label, Revenant. The set gathers Patton's complete recorded solo works, as well as all of the sessions he recorded accompanying Son House, Willie Brown, Bertha Lee, and others. Most of these tracks have been around on import CDs for years, but this set takes the cake. The remasterings are excellent, and the sequencing is smart. There are copious liner notes, a disc featuring the music of Patton's peers, and an interview CD featuring Howlin' Wolf, Pops Staples, and other music legends caught by Patton's charms. This set weighs a ton and costs a lot, but—for anyone who cares remotely about the blues or the history of American music—it's worth every penny. Jason Verlinde
Heartland indie noisemakers administer black eyes, then apply the concealer.
Like a bodybuilder, Shiner's appeal isn't in the skeleton— it's in the network of muscle, sinews, and pure bulk rippling through the flesh. They cram so much activity into cadaverous college-rock archetypes that the songs aren't just on the verge of collapse, they regularly, joyfully crumble into pieces. The metronomic guitar swipes in "Play Dead" accumulate against a shimmering, skewed tempo, until the whole thing erupts into a rousing pre-chorus where frontman Allen Epley ironically cries, "Accidental? Maybe!" His stripped down, throaty come-ons are buoyed by sonic diver-sity; the crushing pillars of distortion in "Surgery" sound strangely perfect alongside "The Top of the World's" disarming keyboard moans. Season to Risk and Molly McGuire, the other two outfits in Kansas City's mid-'90s alt-rock triumvirate, briefly scratched mainstream consciousness only to end up in dollar-bin hell. Their castaways recently joined Shiner to make sure we all pay attention this time. Andrew Bonazelli
Once We Were Trees
Better vibrations from Sunshine State rockers.
Just as they did on their self-titled 2000 debut, Beachwood Sparks pay heartfelt homage to their influences on Once We Were Trees. The casual cool of the Byrds, Flying Burrito Brothers, and Buffalo Springfield again loom large, but the album's cover—a close approximation of the Beach Boys' Smiley Smile cover—is perhaps the most apt tribute. Once is as quintessentially Californian as the Beach Boys and, though not exactly a landmark of Pet Sounds- proportions, surely bears the mark of a band that feels at home in a recording studio. Fortunately, the increased knob-twiddling prowess never detracts from their most immediate charms: playful, countrified melodies and sugar-coated harmonies. As soothing as a summer drive down Route 1, Once might be a little too easygoing for some. Though they vary the tempo more on this record, the tunes are so pretty and Chris Gunst's vocals so lilting that the songs almost threaten to vanish into thin air. Given enough listens, though, Once We Were Trees eventually yields its exceptional moments. Paul Fontana
GORKY'S ZYGOTIC MYNCI
How I Long To Feel That Summer in My Heart
Welsh rockers quit the cutting and pasting and deliver the whole package.
Gorky's Zygotic Mynci began as the Harpos of pop—a madcap dadaist collective that killed time by cutting up melodies and pasting them slapdash and backward to create creatures of dizzying, unfathomable brilliance. The group's first batch of EPs was roundly baffling: Gorky's cockeyed song structures flatly contradicted every classic pop argument, and yet they still turned out charming and relentlessly singable. So it was odd when, sometime around 1999, these Welsh devils decided to drop the mad-scientist routine and start playing it straight. You can chalk it up to the aging process or a decreased fascination with hallucinogens, but the simple fact is that Gorky's is more closely aligned with, say, the Left Banke than Os Mutantes these days, and this only affords a clearer view of their supremacy. Simply put, How I Long To Feel That Summer in My Heart is a masterpiece, a record of startling beauty that ebbs and flows like beach tides and moon cycles, a record so precious it's practically heartbreaking. Though the title references the hot season, Summer is thoroughly autumnal. The songs sound like leaves going orange, and Euros Child's thick tenor drips like spilled honey over gently plucked acoustic guitars and weeping violin. For the first time since their inception, the group proves itself keenly aware of pop history—"Easy Love" is a gorgeous, note-perfect rewrite of the Everly Brothers. The quintet layers melody like cloud cover, and the record manages a delicate, miniature splendor that is as effortless as it is indelible. Gorky's Zygotic Mynci have grown up, and the maturation is breathtaking and butterfly-perfect. J. Edward Keyes