CD Review – April – 2008

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The Black Crowes
Warpaint
Silver Arrow Records
3 out of 5
Anyone who knows my musical taste knows that it pains me to put only three stars at the top of this review. But when you’ve waited for something for seven years and it’s just decent, but not mind-blowing, there’s a huge disappointment factor that can’t help but creep in.
Warpaint is, in fact, the Black Crowes first release of new material in the better part of a decade. During that time, the band broke up, started some great solo projects, got married, got divorced, got the band back together, re-hired some long-departed members and then fired them, then hired an old friend and throughout, released pacifying “lost” recordings, cutting room floor scraps and some truly amazing acoustic material, in the form of Brothers of a Feather.
I guess my thoughts are that after all of that time, they should have put something together that ranked up with their incredible releases Southern Harmony and Musical Companion (1992) and Amorica (1994). And that’s just it, Warpaint is good, but it’s not those albums.
Warpaint would have been a relevant follow-up to those albums, or even their later releases, By Your Side and Lions. But after this long, it seems flat; like a contract filler, not a “we’re back” release.
There’s just nothing spectacular about it … and I listened to the whole thing. For those who missed it, Warpaint got a huge amount of attention after Maxim Magazine ran a review before any press copies were available and slammed the album. When confronted by Crowes management, the boob-alicious mag said it was an “educated guess review.” Regardless of their lack of integrity, their screw-up did help make the album front page news for a few days.

However, the music should have made the album front page news, not the mistake of a wanna-be wanker rag.
Take, for example, the addition of North Miss. axe slinger Luther Dickinson into the Crowes family. Dickinson is heralded for his slide playing, as well he should be, but the Crowes fail to take advantage of this. Dickinson can be heard on some tracks, but it’s muted and in no way is his signature style allowed to shine through. Essentially, he’s a hired gun, and an under-utilized one at that.

All that aside, there are a few very worthy tracks on the album. “Locust Street” feels like something stolen out of the Jayhawks best-of catalog. “Oh Josephine” captures the sound that head Crowe Chris Robinson has often referred to as “Sunday music” — heavily laden with piano soul with a kind of subdued rocking chorus. Finally, the album caps off with “Whoa Mule,” which starts off as an accapella before going into a great campfire-style folk pick. Unfortunately, “Whoa Mule” is the only song where Dickinson’s playing can really be heard, but sadly, again it’s a waste, as he plays on an acoustic resonator guitar.

The Black Crowes were once called “the world’s most rock and roll, rock and roll band,” but these days that tagline falls way short, and what’s worse is that a few of the new wanna-be Black Crowes bands (like Dirty Sweet, or The Buffalo Killers) are producing material that is 10 times more powerful.
It’s easy to arm-chair-quarterback this release, but I think it would have been a lot better had the Crowes finally given a proper release to some of the songs they’ve played live for years, but never put on an album. Songs like “Feathers,” “Title Song,” “Exit” and so on, filled in with a few new tracks, would have been a heralded album. Instead, we’re left with something that just doesn’t hold any water on its own and it makes me really, really miss The New Earth Mud.
- Brian F. Johnson

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Boulder Acoustic Society
Caged Bird
Independent
4 out of 5

Somewhere along the way, when no one was expecting it, Boulder Acoustic Society flipped a U-turn on the musical highway on which they have been traveling, and the result is their latest CD, Caged Bird.

The band, which has become known and critically acclaimed for their avant-garde instrumental arrangements — even going so far as to win the 2007 Independent Music Award for Americana Song of the Year for their track “Does It Really Matter ” — has maintained their multiple genre roots, but has added into the fold a feel of country, Eastern European folk (think DeVotchKa) and back porch storytelling on Caged Bird

According to the band’s press release, a good deal of this sonic change is based on a new lineup. Aaron Keim, Kailin Yong and Brad Jones have been the heart of Boulder Acoustic Society since its inception, but the addition of Scott McCormick (accordion, piano, vocals) and Scott Aller (percussion) have helped push the band’s sound far beyond its previous studio work.

As is typical of Boulder Acoustic Society, just as listeners start to get comfortable with a certain sound, the band is apt to throw something else out entirely. That near-schizophrenic approach, though, is what keeps Caged Bird so interesting — and, for that matter, what has kept the band so interesting for the last four years.

Few bands can so easily transition between genre, style and vibe the way Boulder Acoustic Society does, either live or on this album. Their ability to do so has already set them apart and their commitment to continuing to stretch that sound is going to continue to turn heads.

With seven original songs and a Bob Dylan cover of “Maggie’s Farm” (a version that they call a “minor key acoustic punk version”), Caged Bird seems like it is longer than its actual 29 minutes. But that half-hour packs in more fun than most double-CD releases. It may be short, but it certainly isn’t loaded with any fluff.

One last side note: famed jazz trumpeter Ron Miles appears on the track “Year of Our Lord” and Miles will join the band, and an entire horn section, for their Fox Theatre show. — Brian F. Johnson

:: Boulder Acoustic Society ::
:: Hodi’s Half Note :: April 16 ::
:: Paradise Theater (Paonia) :: April 18 ::
:: The Falcon :: April 19 ::
:: Fox Theatre :: May 14 ::

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Paul Manousos
Common Thread
Shock and Fall Recordings
4 out of 5

The music on Paul Manousos’ sophomore solo album Common Thread is solid, but what makes this album a keeper are Manousos’ vocals, which fall somewhere between David Johansen of the New York Dolls, and Whiskeytown-era Ryan Adams (with maybe a bit of Elvis Costello thrown in for good measure).

Manousos has that much-coveted ability to make songs that are being heard for the first time seem like they’ve been kicking around in your car since the cassette era.

For those who want the heart and soul of a singer/songwriter with the swagger and style of a full indie band, Common Thread is the perfect mix.
— Brian F. Johnson
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Spring Creek
Lonesome Way To Go
Independent
4 out of 5

Spring Creek has been all the rage since they won the Telluride Bluegrass Festival band contest last year. The band also took home its second Planet Bluegrass title at Rockygrass last summer.

While the band won those contests on the strength of their live performances, their newest album, Lonesome Way To Go, is just as worthy of recognition.

It’s classic bluegrass through and through, but has enough of a subtle modern flavor to keep it fresh and relevant. Jessica Smith’s vocals are as beautiful as the band’s musicianship. It also doesn’t hurt that some of Colorado’s best bluegrassers accompany on this incredibly strong album.
— Brian F. Johnson

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