CD Reviews – January – 2008

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Drive-By Truckers – Brighter Than Creation’s Dark
(New West Records)

4 out of 5 Stars

Folks who have come to rely on Drive-By Truckers for unbridled rock and roll might initially be put off by the band’s latest album, Brighter Than Creation’s Dark.

Nineteen songs and 75 minutes long, the album showcases a kinder-gentler DBT, but clearly highlights the delicate foundation that has always been prevalent in their songwriting. The men and woman of Drive-By Truckers are masterful storytellers, Hemingways of our time, really. They’ve just always done it with a three guitar attack.


Many of the songs on Brighter Than Creation’s Dark were first presented to Truckers fans during the 2007 Dirt Underneath Tour, which was mostly sit-down acoustic shows with some rockers thrown in for good measure — and this album parallels that tour perfectly, right down to the guest spots by famed keyboardist Spooner Oldham.
Patterson Hood has hit his stride on songwriting for this album, penning some of the most heartfelt tracks the band has ever performed. “That Man I Shot” and “The Home Front” are stories of our country’s current situation in Iraq, inspired by chance backstage meetings with “almost strangers.” But where Hood really shines are his personal songs such as “Two Daughters and a Beautiful Wife” and the amazingly sweet “Daddy Needs a Drink” (my personal favorite from the album).
Hood’s long-time partner in crime, Mike Cooley, comes through with his standard whiskey-drenched tracks, but also slows it down for some of the better material he’s penned in years. Ironically, one of Cooley’s strongest tracks, “Checkout Time in Vegas,” was inspired by Denver’s own Scott Baxendale, a luthier, screenwriter and documentary director who also had an outlaw lifestyle, which lead to the first line of the song, “A bloody nose, empty pockets, a rented car with a trunk full of guns.”
Brighter Than Creation’s Dark also showcases the first songs that bassist Shonna Tucker has written for DBT. Tucker’s been a life-long songwriter but has never put together a song for this band. All three of the tracks she brings to the table are fantastic, with “I’m Sorry Houston” being a strong standout.
So, if you’ve always liked the loud barroom rock of Drive-By Truckers, you’ll still find it here, just not in the quantity of albums past. And if you’ve gravitated to the more ballad-type Truckers songs of the past, Brighter Than Creation’s Dark may find its way into your Top 10 list for 2008.

— Brian F. Johnson

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Queen
Rock Montreal – DVD
EAGLE VISION
3.5 out of 5 Stars
In November 1981, with “Under Pressure” topping the charts in the U.K., Queen arrived in Montreal following dates in Japan and their record-breaking tour of Latin America. It was to be the only concert by Queen that was ever shot on film. Always a great live band, with arguably the greatest front man of all time in Freddie Mercury, they exceeded even themselves with the cameras rolling. Ironically, the concert fell ten years to the day before Mercury would pass away.
Watching Mercury prance shirtless around the stage in shorts you could have only worn in 1981 is worth the disc alone, but seeing this epitome of classic rock in all its live glory is the true gem.
— Brian F. Johnson

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Ben Harper
Live At Twist & Shout (CD/DVD combo)
Virgin Records
3.5 out of 5 Stars
Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals thank “every independent record store in the world” in the liner notes of the latest release from their camp and the first in a series of releases from Denver’s reigning king of independent music stores, Twist & Shout.
Many in-store appearances are short little sets that usually aren’t all that energetic, but make up for that with their intimacy. Live at Twist & Shout is a concert, filmed in August of 2007 at the store’s new Colfax Avenue location.
Twist & Shout president Paul Epstein said that the CD/DVD package “exceeds our wildest expectations,” and well it should. Filmed with six cameras and professionally recorded, the quality of the production is dead-on.
In a time when Harper and the Innocent Criminals continue to get bigger and bigger, playing the country’s largest stages, this recording lets fans get up close and personal again.
It’s also fun to scan the crowd in the DVD for familiar Denver faces and there are quite a few spottings, including AEG Live’s Don Strasburg.
— Brian F. Johnson

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John Butler
Live at Twist & Shout
Atlantic Records
3 out of 5 Stars
Late in June of 2007 the owners of Twist & Shout opened their doors to a crowd that was much bigger than what they had anticipated. Four-hundred people piled into the store to see the U.S.-born but Australian-raised John Butler, not with his trio, but solo.
The result is the second release in the new Live at Twist & Shout series (the third release is due out in early 2008 and features an in-store performance by former Drive-By Trucker Jason Isbell).
Butler’s set weaved through guitar, slide and banjo pieces, from the socially jabbing “Used to Get High” to the expansive soundscape of the aptly titled “Ocean,” to the back porch stomp of “Better Than.” Butler caps his set with the almost all accapella “Fire in the Sky” and the old timey, booty shaking sing-along “Funky Tonight.”
As with other releases in the series, the recording is solid and professional and captures the intimate setting and the enthusiasm of the crowd.
The only problem with the series is that it’s starting now and that the countless in-stores beforehand aren’t also available. If they do decide to go back into the archives and pull out the old shows for releases, I simultaneously envy and feel bad for the person assigned to take on that huge task.
— Brian F. Johnson

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Forth Yeer Freshman
Rock Your Box
Independent
3 out of 5 Stars
Denver-based Forth Yeer Freshman’s newest CD Rock Your Box ain’t exactly high brow, but then again, if it was it wouldn’t be as entertaining as it is. Rock Your Box and the band, in general, are like a ’70s action/thriller grindhouse film. You’re not going to learn anything important from it, but you’re not going to have a bad time either. It’s sheer entertainment and, afterall, isn’t that what rock and roll was founded on? — — Brian F. Johnson
:: Forth Yeer Freshman ::
:: Bender’s Tavern :: January 26 ::

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Fina Dupa
Give It Back
Independent
3 out of 5 Stars
I love it when local bands put their lyrics in their albums. Not enough bands do that, and it’s no wonder that Fina Dupa went the extra mile with their latest CD Give It Back.
Fina Dupa doesn’t necessarily make leaps and bounds in terms of musical growth on Give It Back, but what they have managed to do is really dial in their funk-rock barroom boogie. The Denver-based four piece has a wealth of guest musicians on Give It Back which serve to make the compositions much more full without taking away from the already strong delivery of the core band.
Official release parties will start in February.
— Brian F. Johnson

Quick Spins – By DJ Hippie
The New Rivals
Self-titled
So-Be Entertainment
The band loses points for being on a sports drink label but the music is so ferocious that their label is worth forgiving. Straight-up punk rock never gets stale.
2 out of 5 stars

Merle Haggard
The Bluegrass
Sessions
Hag Records
The great Haggard conjures up a little bluegrass album that is sure to please diehard fans. Jam fans that have a taste for bluegrass in their craw will also be pleased.
3 out of 5 stars

Kiss
KISS Loves You
8th Grade Films
This is a cool look into the phenomenon of the various KISS conventions held by some of the worlds most dedicated and crazed fans. This DVDs is not for the faint at heart or Trekkies.
4 out of 5 stars

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