CD Reviews


Rockin' the Rhein With the Grateful Dead: Rheinhalle, Dusseldorf, West Germany, April 24, 1972 (Rhino)

I've long harbored a pet theory that one reason the Dead played so well at their four concerts in Germany on their legendary 1972 European tour was they were showing off—giving back to Karlheinz Stockhausen what he hipped them to, and demonstrating to the composer's commune-dwelling disciples a Wild West version of musical chaos theory. Deadhead mythology has long held that guitarist Jerry Garcia and bassist Phil Lesh, along with various Jefferson Airplanes and Mothers of Invention, had their creative minds blown by Professor Stockhausen during his stint as a visiting lecturer at Cal-Davis in 1967, before some of his other students went on to form Can, Krautrock's own Dead. Maybe that's why, after spending 1971 reeling in their outer-space ambitions, the Dead's '72 was about levying lyricist Robert Hunter's ongoing dialogue with the great American songbook and blazing back out of the canon. The three–CD Rockin' the Rhein is a sonic artifact of balancing such psychedelic investigations within a "rock band" context. Especially the third disc, which is devoted to the über-malleable "Dark Star" (the true meaning of pre-fuse '73—musique concréte sprinkles included), fused with honor codes of reckless cowboys (Papa John Phillips' "Me & My Uncle") and panhandling historians (Hunter-Garcia's majestic "Wharf Rat"), followed by 25-minutes' worth of a Buddy Holly/Chuck Berry–inspired party. You can almost hear the Dead say, "Let's see Ash Ra Tempel do that!" PIOTR ORLOV


50,000 Fall Fans Can't Be Wrong: 39 Golden Greats


Fall fans are post-punk Deadheads. As with the Dead or La Monte Young or Dr. Dre or one of those Warhol films where a guy rubs a cockroach against his tit for three hours, it's all of a piece, so it's all great, right? Meanwhile, the neophyte is left with 876 albums, EPs, singles, comps, flexi-discs, DVDs, dub plates, video cassettes, Edison cylinders, smoke signals, and I think one eight-track to wade through. Oh, and let's not forget all the dodgy reissues, semilegal bootlegs, stuff mastered from skipping vinyl—and hey, why do all Borders carry one live gig from Zagreb in 1991 and nothing else? Let's face it, when you and I and all our works are dust, fans and speedheads (not that the two are mutually exclusive) will still be trying to work out the Fall catalog. Meanwhile, here in the present and 27 years on, someone finally manages a decent best-of covering the whole sprawl. The early stuff, of course, still sounds awesome: Cuts like "Rowche Rumble," "Totally Wired," and "Cruiser's Creek" demonstrate that Mark E. Smith and whoever was on the payroll at the time were the last great garage band, the Modern Lovers playing Krautrock. "Repetition" remains the baldest, boldest, and truest statement of purpose ever essayed by a rock band. Even the problematic post-1986 stuff sounds great here. For instance, I never noticed the note-perfect depiction of terminal day-job boredom on "Behind the Counter" before. Which is precisely what a best-of should do: reveal hidden treasures buried in mountains of mediocrity, and put the classic stuff in a new light. After all, there are more homes with a Best of the Grateful Dead than a full collection of Dick's Picks. JESS HARVELL


The Real New Fall Album Formerly "Country on the Click"


Because the title might imply that some Fall records weren't exactly the genuine article, you're forgiven for thinking that Mark E. Smith is making some kind of marble-mouthed apology for the glut of gratuitous compilations and live collections released in the past few years. (Forgiven, but laughed at. Mark E. Smith? Apologies?) The title actually denotes that this release is distinct (just barely) from the stuff, of more or less the same name, that leaked onto the Internet while in various stages of rough draft. But this is also the Fall's first new U.S. release in over six years, so if the landslide of new old stuff managed to whet your appetite, you're in luck. As has been often noted of late, the Fall are now their own genre, and "Contraflow," with its winding, grinding guitars and mis-anthropic nature, is quintessential Fall-punk. "Mountain," which bears significant resemblance to Iggy Pop's "Passenger," is likewise on par with the back catalog, but it's also markedly laid-back and reflective. M.E.S. is, after all, 27 years into the game. Yet the old vet sounds, for the most part, remarkably vital—no small thanks to the band behind him. Properly referencing vintage Fall peers as well as the avant-garde who influenced them, and produced to sound not unlike that well-heeled indie band you don't hate, this version doesn't shy away from tweaky gizmos nor loosely disguised rewrites. Not every minute of it works, but Smith isn't God. He just thinks he is. LAURA CASSIDY




On the cover of his seventh album, Laughing Len demonstrates why you should never let a depressed hemophiliac use your bathtub. He does sound like he needs some cheering up this time around, though—some pretty shameful incidents are revealed here. Like having "drank with Dylan, boy did we act the fool," which seems to have put him off being a "star" entirely, if the title "I Don't Want to Be a Star" is anything to go by! "Flash" isn't the Queen song, but it explains how "flash" makes him "feel like a queen," and thus (if less advertently) why Baptism sounds like a Queen record made up of all Roger Taylor songs, except with less-good drumming. But then, the more simplistic the drumming, the better the song here, because that means it's faster, like "California," in which he unbelievably claims to have, at one point in his life, not heard "Who, Zeppelin, Beatles, Kiss" records. (Not even the one "Firehouse"/"Mr. Cab Driver" was on?) Unfortunately there's nothing here as fast as "Sheer Heart Attack," and the slower songs drag on longer than Dylan's cab ride with "the other Lenny" Bruce, perhaps indicating that Lenny is about to join Mark Farner and Kerry Livgren in Born-Again Classic Rock Heaven. Stunned with age and too much knowledge, Kravitz gives the tired-of-being-alive treatment to his old songs: "And when it's over, it's over/'Cause I've got no class!" C'mon Lenny, don't go! Somebody's got to keep the memory of Roachford alive! You gotta live like you're on vacation! It ain't no crime to be good to yourself! Lick it up! DAVE QUEEN


¡Ahora Si!


In 1938, an 18-year-old Cuban bass player named Israel "Cachao" Lopez and his brother Orestes invented mambo in a danzón-on-caffeine of the same name. Since then, Cachao's reinventions of Cuban music have swept thoroughly, if quietly, through North American pop. In 2004, an 84-year-old Cachao's fourth album with actor Andy Garcia as producer, ¡Ahora Si! (Now Yes!), is every bit as syncretic and epic as the man himself. "Queja Africana/Protesta Abakua" weaves layers of musical and lyrical complexity together in a meditation on the orishas, slavery, and cultural oppression—rhythm itself as resistance. Past and present disappear in the title track, a joyous son that works through three births—it begins with Cachao's, moves through that of the mambo, and closes with the birth of Garcia's own son. On the Ellingtonian ballad, "Si Me Pudieras Querer (If You Could Only Love Me)," no words are necessary—the emotions are almost palpable. The CD also comes packaged with a DVD, showing Cachao leading his stellar band, an intergenerational cast of dozens, including the brilliant West Coast transplant Lázaro Galarraga. Cachao taps foundational rhythms out with his walking cane. The players pick up his cue and blow. Everybody dances. It's a mesmerizing process to behold, particularly as he brings together the 17-minute "Guajira Clasica." Aside from a brief intro by Garcia, there is no commentary—like "Si Me Pudieras Querer," words would just get in the way of the moment. JEFF CHANG


The Narcissist


In the 21st century, it often feels like the sound of classic Detroit techno has faded away into mythology. Its principal architects have been eschewing new studio work for lucrative and pointless DJ mixes, exploring musical tangents, or releasing records in such miniscule self-pressings they're little more than hearsay. Doing everything, it seems, but making new Motor City anthems—which, as good as the Cologne/Berlin and Montreal strains are at the moment, feels like cultural extinction in progress. In the early stages of The Narcissist, his first album of new music in eight years, Kenny Larkin, one of Detroit's most soulful composers, continues the drought. Bad enough he's been in L.A. trying to make it as a stand-up comic, but coming back to waste time with down-tempo balderdash seems like the worst joke of all. Then the 313 magic kicks in. The competing syncopated pulses of "Fake French (Merci Detroit Mix)" establish three minutes of insistence-not-raw-power, before a keyboard that's part Sheherazade, part Star Wars, leaves you begging for more. Built on triplets, "Jazz to the Future" shuffles lovingly for Planet E heads. "Nitefall" brings the funk. And Larkin ends with a lazy anthem, "In the Meantime," constructed of ambient melodies, micro-twitches, and drum-machine flurries. It's enough to make the Detroit legend reality again, and see the city's hope spring eternal once more—"Beat L.A.," indeed. PIOTR ORLOV

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