Amy LaVere, Stranger Me. The great Memphis music maestro Jim
Dickinson was one of the first to spot the bright sparkle of
singer-songwriter Amy LaVere. And when Dickinson spoke, it was a good
bet to listen. LaVere comes from that place where influences melt into
each other, and what gets created becomes its own species. Nowhere is
that more true than on Stranger Me. This lady has entered the outer
edges of the twilight zone, and not a minute too soon.
Gone are the rootsy vestiges of being a stand-up bass player who
sings her own songs. On earlier albums, Amy LaVere seemed like she was
struggling to break free of those bonds, and find a way to run through
the open spaces of wherever her imagination took her. Well, she's sure
done it here. Producer Craig Silvey, who engineered Arcade Fire's recent
winner Suburbs, wiped the slate clean and lets LaVere craft a brand new
sound. There are odd noises finding their way onto the tape, but they
somehow fit. The magic of a Memphis mojo comes through again.
It's said you can't judge a book by the cover, but you most
definitely can judge a singer by their covers. In this case, the singer
comes through with flying colors. First up is an alluring take on
Captain Beefheart's "Candle Mambo." It may be sweetened up a bit and the
good Captain's peculiar curves straightened out a notch, but there's
no mistaking the curious aura at the song's core. It all works like a
Album closer "Let Yourself Go (Come On)" by Louisiana legend
Bobby Charles is a gorgeous ballad that brings the album, and Amy
LaVere, full circle. It's the voice of an angel speaking to itself, and
luckily we get to listen in. Whew.
The Creole Choir of Cuba, Tande-La. When things get wild in Cuba,
apparently, they really get wild. This vocal group, comprised of six men
and four women between the ages of 27 and 61, are a study in the music
of the spheres coming down to earth. Most of the songs are the stories
of the choir's Haitian ancestors who were brought to Cuba to work in
near-slave conditions on the sugar and coffee plantations. They way
these singers have overcome their own long odds to make their way in the
world is a glory in itself.
One of the Choir's strengths is a dedication of spirit in telling
the stories of their people, and how they sing in Creole, Cuba's second
language. The twice-exiled people never gave up, keeping their community
roots strong and singing of hardship and hope whenever they had a
chance. The way they use Caribbean rhythms to keep the lyrics moving is
irresistible, with different lead voices luring listeners into the
tales. Even in another language, the power of what the Creoles have
experienced never fails to inspire.
World music is an ever evolving wonder, and just about the time
everything seems to have been discovered, a brand new strain appears.
That is the Creole Choir of Cuba. If you think it's all been heard, the
songs "Neg Anwo," "Fey," or "Chen Nan" will sail in on a carpet of
newness and float right through the head. The group has just started
their first tour of the U.S., and what is already amazing on disc is
sure to be even more wondrous in person. So go.
, Europe '72 Vol. 2
. The blissful counterstroke
is humming full-speed, with neural synapses blasting into the red zone
and remaining memory banks running over with happy ooze. The Grateful
Dead, long gone since mastermind Jerry Garcia's demise all those years
ago, keep spinning into the present from a tape library the size of
This double disc collection from the band's vaunted 1972
tour of Europe takes up right where the first volume left off, and it's
an unmitigated delight of Dead frolics and induced fantasy.
It could easily be argued that after the band came home from this
tour they never hit the note quite the same again. Ron "Pigpen" McKernan
wasn't long for the world, and the group's shift into their second
phase soon began. But Lordy, these shows sound like they were totally in
the soup, exploring the outer edges of the musical cosmos as the
intrepid pioneers they always were.
"The Other One" veers between tenderness and sonic terror, a
wild ride of hallucinogenic joy. Then there's Garcia's elegant guitar
"Goin' Down the Road Feeling Bad," sounding like someone wearing a
tuxedo in the middle of a barroom brawl. It doesn't get any finer. For
lingering doubters, "Dark Star" brings it all home: the mothership has
landed. When the Orange Sunshine starts to dissolve in the brainstream
and the nowhere mine disappears behind big white clouds, the Grateful
Dead will be there, playing for the true believers. The thoughtwaves
sent from above promise to take the children of Uncle John's Band all
the way home, with Cowboy Neal at the wheel on the bus to never ever