Record Reviews


Diary of a Mod Housewife (Koch)


My Long-Haired Life (Sugar Hill)

Two survivors of the mid-Eighties jangle boom (Bongos, dBs, Let's Active, Yo La Tengo, Shams, etc....) raise a defiant glass to passing youth. Ex-Sham Amy Rigby plants a patent-leather bootprint right in the ass of aging with Mod Housewife. From "Time for Me to Come Down," her vow to commit to love, Rigby flaunts exhilarating resolve. "20 Questions" could be the prequel to Nancy Sinatra's get-yer-shit-together anthem, "Jackson," and "We're Stronger Than That" is such a brilliant tip o' the brim to the VU's "Afterhours" that one might mistake the guitar for the clink of flask to shotglass. Similarly, surprises come from Marti Jones' reflective My Long-Haired Life. Jones' soulful tones earned her reputation as today's Dusty Springfield, with whom she shares superb instinct for choosing covers (i.e., Joni Mitchell's "Songs to Aging Children"). The real surprise, however, is that Jones shines brightest when pouring over her own songs penned with longtime cohort Don Dixon. The literal take of Squeeze's "Black Coffee in Bed" is pleasant, but what's the point, when she can compose new classics like "Silent Partner"? Her other stand-out "It's Not What I Want" seems to sum it up: Marti, what do you want? Find out. We'll be waiting for you.
(Diary of a Mod Housewife) HHH
(My Long-Haired Life) HH 1/2 -- Kate X Messer


Bandit Queen (Milan)


Night Song (Real World)

During the 14th century, Europe was in the Dark Ages. By contrast, the Muslim world was burgeoning, due partly to Qawwali, music of the mystical sect of Islam -- the Sufis. Qawwali contains sophisticated ragas combined with jubilant spontaneity; its repetitive yet lyrical force can -- like Southern Gospel music -- send listeners into trance. Members of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan's family have been Qawwali singers for over 600 hundred years, and he's considered to be Qawwali's greatest living exponent. So why is this pious Pakistani Pavarotti on every music critic's short list of world musicians? One reason: His music transcends all boundaries of language and religion. Another reason: Most music critics would rather jump on the bandwagon du jour than comment uniquely on an uncovered subject. Taking nothing away from Nusrat, there are many more great folk musicians from around the world that you won't hear sing with Eddie Vedder. Don't settle for the typical tripe on heavy rotation or what music critics say -- explore the musical world for yourself. Oh yeah, both of these Nusrat albums rock. For the uninitiated, I recommend Night Song and for those lovers of soundtrack subtlety check Bandit Queen.
(Bandit Queen) HHH
(Night Song) HHHH -- David Lynch


Nine Objects of Desire (A&M)

Churning tempests locked inside Suzanne Vega have exploded into an erotic hurricane. Since her emergence from New York's beret-and-turtleneck set with "Luka," through flirtations with techno (1992's 99.9deg.F), Vega's maintained a calm before the storm. No more. Nine Objects of Desire offers 12 gifts of passion, blood, and wonder. An atmospheric master, Vega outdoes herself with this virtual Garden of Eden, which ends not in shameful banishment but enlightened respect for human lust. Try to find as boldly sensual a testimonial of childbirth as "Birth-day (love made real)," ripe with cleansing breaths, clenched thighs, and focused contractions. From there, Nine Objects... plants clues as to the origin of Vega's sensual inspiration: Lifting from Santana so directly, as she does on "Lolita," takes a lot of guts (or devotion) -- same for those Astrud Gilberto lilts, Martin Denny jungle sounds, and Michel Legrand breaks into happy-feeted abandon... She even recreates "Norwegian Wood" ("Stockings") without even knowing it. These triggers aren't for your benefit. They are essential bookmarks in Vega's erotic awakening. Hellllloooooo, Suzanne!
HHHH -- Kate X Messer


Deux Voyages (Rounder)


La Vie Marron (The Runaway Life) (Green Linnet)

Both of these bands were founded out of a desire to preserve Cajun and Creole traditions, yet they couldn't be farther apart in their approaches. Balfa Toujours ("Balfa forever") is the creation of Christine Balfa, daughter of the great Dewey Balfa. As the name implies, they're committed to carrying on the Balfa Brothers' legacy faithfully, although perhaps a bit too faithfully. They're masterfully adept at delivering the same standards as Christine's ancestors and covers of the late, legendary Creole fiddler Canray Fontenot, as well as tradition-minded originals. Unfortunately, it may be at the expense of their own voice -- really, there's nothing to distinguish them from the many traditionalist bands out there. Then again, being "just another band" from talent-loaded Southwest Louisiana still makes one pretty damn good. Filé also has Canray Fontenot connections, as well as Austin ones. Remember D'Jalma Garnier's Monday night shows at the Continental about five or six years ago, with all the free red beans and rice you could eat? Well, Garnier went off to study with Fontenot and learned his lessons well, now expertly reproducing that rustic, sawing style for Filé. Unlike Balfa Toujours, however, Filé takes chances, mixing their own Fontenot covers with other styles of Louisiana, throwing in hot, boogie-woogie piano, blues, and R&B that retains its rootsiness without sacrificing personality. Best of all, they adeptly blend the styles, rather than awkwardly shifting from one to the other; they could almost be Acadiana's version of the Iguanas.
(Deux Voyages) HHH
(La Vie Marron) HHH1/2 -- Lee Nichols


A Few Small Repairs (Columbia)

Using superlatives is like crying wolf. You can't do it too many times before your credibility factor vanishes. Inherent risks be damned. Here goes: A Few Small Repairs is the best record released this year. This one nails the routine flawlessly and sticks the dismount without a hop (maybe just a slight equilibrium adjustment with the arms). On the first listen, Repairs is enjoyable --like looking at a pretty landscape painting. There's a scenic musical backdrop further decorated with Colvin's airy and sometimes frail but colorful voice. It's passive. It's aesthetically pleasing. But keep listening further and you see this wide variety of emotional characters who are typically passionate, but usually understated so as not to crush you with excess weight. Then you realize you're not looking at a flat, static picture at all, but actually reading a fantastic book into which you are now inextricably drawn. If the tumultuous domestic affairs (specifically her divorce) and any related suffering Colvin may have endured recently were indeed the inspiration for the material here, then, from a listener's standpoint, it was worth it. If not, then let's hope whatever creative streak spawned A Few Small Repairs continues indefinitely.
HHHH 1/2 -- Michael Bertin


The Doctor Came at Dawn (Drag City)

Obviously fueled by a falling-out with the old lady, Bill Callahan has finally found the right cruise line for the vacation of his dreamy and subtle talents. From Julius Caesar to Wild Love, Callahan sometimes barked up the wrong trees in searching for a nice niche for himself, yet with The Doctor Came at Dawn, the lonely boy plants himself in a stripped-down, Palace-esque sort of vacation which still only hints at the potential breadth of his unmistakable charm. Callahan plays all the instruments here, including the unlikeliest of ukuleles, fiddles, mandolins, saxophones, flutes, and drums "in the spirit." This rather interesting style truly brings Callahan out from the comfy confines of his lush, over-produced orchestrations of recent years and four-track couch fuzz of less-recent years. "You Moved In," "Lize," (with a guest vocal by Cynthia Dall of Untitled) and "All Your Woman Things" stand out as morose and tender pieces of work that probably hurt us more than they do him.
HHH 1/2 -- Taylor Holland


illadelph halflife (DGC/Geffen)

At first, it appears the Roots have taken a step back on illadelph halflife, stripping down their static live instrumentation to a fairly basic drum/bass/piano loop. So although ?uestlove's drums are still unmistakably organic, the improvisational "jams" and old-school head-cuttin' that made the Roots contenders as hip-hop's Grateful Dead have been noticeably reigned in. And yet, stylistically, from the mock-opera of "Concerto of the Desperado" to the superfunk of "Clones," there's also at least a half-dozen dramatically conceptual steps forward on this tightly packed 20-track set. If 1995's Do You Want More?!?!??!? was creation, illadelph halflife is evolution. Notably, frontman Black Thought has found a voice -- now poetically locking into grooves rather than simply riding out rhymes. And while Tony!Toni!Tone!'s Raphael Saadiq, the Pharcyde's Slim Kid 3, and Q-Tip all put in credible cameos, it's perhaps D'Angelo ("The Hypnotic") and jazz diva Cassandra Wilson ("One Shine") that come off as the truest additions to the Roots collective. Guests aside, the Roots hold their own, rarely repeating themselves in a full 78 minutes, and even less frequently repeating what hip-hop itself has offered so far. illadelph halflife firmly establishes that these Roots do indeed run deep.
HHH 1/2 -- Andy Langer


From the Muddy Banks of the Wishka (DGC)

Say what you will about grave-robbing and posthumous exploitation, but Nirvana did start life as a live band before unleashing some great records that had the unfortunate side-effect of unleashing a million bad flannel rock pretenders. Hence, documentation was necessary, and one slab where Nirvana decided to go against their normally hi-amp grain before a small audience and a few select TV cameras wasn't gonna cut it. Muddy Banks presents a remarkably consistent portrait of Nirvana's in-concert potency for a record compiled from so many varying sources (TV and radio broadcasts, mobile multi-track recordings, soundboard tapes), and from so many points along their timeline; from a pair of Chad Channing-era tracks cut in London through to the full-blooded roar of their final days with Pat (the Germs) Smear thickening the guitar signals. The material both surprises and doesn't, meaning that yes, you get "Teen Spirit," but you have to wade through a highly-charged "Aneurysm" before getting there. All in all, a cool, clean, classy affair, and solid proof that the legend wasn't overblown, that Nirvana was a great rock & roll band.
HHH 1/2 -- Tim Stegall


Ride the Fader (Matador)

On their second full-length, New York's Chavez come out a few notches sleeker and softer, with an album that delivers equal amounts of lo-fi melody, hi-fi atmosphere, and all-around arty crunch -- the guitars imploding inwards just as often as they sparks outwards. Ride the Fader alchemizes the band's sharp-cornered, rough-edged sound with equal doses of tense sonic constructions and easygoing pop sweets (in some cases Sugar-sweet, with moments that recall Bob Mould's penchant for dramatic melodies and multi-layered noise crystals). By the time track 12, "You Must Be Stopped," rolls around, Chavez have managed to roll together the Beach Boys, Branca, and My Bloody Valentine into one distinctive disc. (Chavez play Emo's November 12.)
HHH -- Jason Cohen

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Music Reviews
Texas Platters
Jack Ingram
Ridin' High... Again (Record Review)

Doug Freeman, June 28, 2019

Texas Platters
American Sharks
11:11 (Record Review)

Michael Toland, June 28, 2019

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle