CD Reviews for 2-27-08

Feb 26, 2008 at 8:45 pm
For Emma, Forever Ago
Bon Iver
Bon Iver is not a poodle-haired wimp rocker from the streets of Jersey, always chasing the legend of Bruce Springstreen, forever out of reach due to a lack of vision and distracted by poon.
Bon Iver is not a schoolboy ball rocker from Australia, determined to do nothing but rock, drink and score some trim.
Bon Iver, aka Justin Vernon, is a nice young man who probably wrote poetry in high school. He probably did it to get girls, but pretended like he did it just because he was, like, really deep. Next, he probably went to art school, mostly to get girls.
At this point, you probably can tell how you’d feel about this record.
Make no mistake — the music is lovely. He probably would like to be Jeff Buckley or Peter Gabriel when he grows up. Vernon can create moods, paint pictures with his guitar; it’s his incessant, forced falsetto that loses the contest for him. Like a 12-year-old with a beard, it weighs him down and makes you forget there’s a person buried underneath. —Peter Berkowitz

Punch Bros.

Initially a side-project for Nickel Creek’s affable mandolin prodigy, this band has evolved into Chris Thile’s primary outlet for the foreseeable future.
Although Thile is at the helm of this project, and he certainly makes a good face man, the rest of this crew are every bit his equal. The current Punch Brothers roster boasts Chris Eldridge (son of the great Ben Eldridge) on guitar, Greg Garrison on bass, Noam Pikelny on banjo and Gabe Witcher on fiddle.
Punch confirms that, stylistically, Thile and company still owe more to New Grass Revival than Bill Monroe. Throughout this release, elements of rock ’n’ roll, jazz, classical music and blues sprout beautifully from this group’s “grass.”
Expansive and experimental, this record revolves around four principle movements of “The Blind Leaving the Blind.” Most importantly, Punch showcases a confederation of young master musicians having a blast. Accordingly, it’s also fun just to listen in. —Kevin M. Wilson

Another Country
Tift Merritt

Another Country is the follow-up to Tift Merritt’s 2004 Grammy-nominated album Tambourine. Though it was mostly written on a piano in a Parisian flat, Another Country has retained the authentic sense of Americana the country music industry demands.
Merritt’s strengths lay in her voice and songwriting. She sings like she’s at a crossroads in her life and career, without the earnestness that usually accompanies such territory. The only aspect that holds Another Country back is its simplistic, unoriginal arrangements. While never wholly weak, its cookie-cutter tracks sound like every radio-friendly song to come out of Nashville in the past 10 years.
The opening song “Something to Me” is old fashioned, almost brutal country with Merritt channeling the voice of Loretta Lynn. Lyrically, “Morning is My Destination” is one of the most poetic country songs in recent memory. And the closer, “Mille Tendresses” (French for “1,000 Tendernesses”) is easily the most striking. Sung entirely in French and accompanied by nothing more than a piano, the album ends where it all began … in a Parisian flat. Tift Merritt plays for free at 6 p.m. on March 7 at ear X-tacy (1534 Bardstown Road, 452-1799) —Brent Owen

Backwoods Barbie
Dolly Parton

The good news is that there are no collaborations with Sylvester Stallone here. But this is a return to the more cheesy elements of mainstream country that Dolly had managed to put behind her when she reverted to her traditional roots in the late 1990s (along with Ricky Skaggs, Vince Gill and others).
That said, this album is not that bad in the overall context of modern pop-country. It’s just that such a simple gal seems ill-suited for all the overproduction of Backwoods Barbie.
A bluegrass reading of Fine Young Cannibals might have worked well. But the version of “Drives Me Crazy” included here is lost in the shimmering reflection of the disco ball her producer insisted upon shining over these sessions.
Still, there is no question that, in spite of herself, Ms. Parton remains a class act. It’s hard not to love her enthusiasm and zest for life. The fact that the woman who paved the way for Shania Twain, the Dixie Chicks and Carrie Underwood would want some high-profile outings of her own every once and a while makes sense. —Kevin M. Wilson

Trinity Revisited
Cowboy Junkies

Re-recording your most significant album (a la Alanis Morissette or W. Axl Rose) is not a particularly groundbreaking move. That said, this nostalgic set from a largely underappreciated band is surprisingly good.
As the title suggests, the Junkies re-visit their lauded sophomore LP, which was initially recorded somewhat spontaneously in an old sacred space.
The idea for the current project was simply to invite some fellow musicians (who had been influenced by the original release) back to the Church of the Holy Trinity in Toronto for an unrehearsed session commemorating the record’s 20th anniversary. A handful of friends, including Vic Chesnutt and Natalie Merchant, turned up for the celebration that evolved into this disc and companion video.
Still soulful and moody, the band and the songs have aged well. This time around, the standout tune is “200 More Miles,” with Ryan Adams handling the lead vocals.
If you are not already acquainted with Cowboy Junkies’ blend of folk, blues and old-school country, this is a great introduction. Cowboy Junkies and Mary Gauthier play March 27 as part of First Capital Bank’s Live at the Clifton Center series. Tickets are $29-$33. —Kevin M. Wilson

Seventh Tree

Goldfrapp’s previous album, Supernature, was a giddy glitterbox of glam-rock stomp and sleazy disco flourishes. So naturally, the willfully self-assured duo of Will Gregory and Allison Goldfrapp have made a 180-degree turn (well, maybe 170), following it up with a disc that finds them at their most ethereal and organic.
Starting with its title, Seventh Tree lets you know that things will be a little more pastoral this time out, but this being Goldfrapp, it’s a decidedly dark, pagan take on pastoralism instead of hippy-dippy shenanigans expected from lesser artists.
Some of the songs here are so melodic and swoony that they’re downright gorgeous: “Some People” does Kate Bush better than Kate Bush, and album-opener “Clowns” features birdsong and beautiful vocals backed by gentle, finger-picked acoustic guitar that explodes into an orchestral-drenched chorus. It’s only with the aid of the lyric sheet that you realize the song seems to be about the ancient folk art of plastic surgery.
Meanwhile, tracks like “Caravan Girl” and “Happiness” mine more familiar musical territory, but they play nicely with their counterparts, reminding the faithful that the band hasn’t forsaken them. Rather, Goldfrapp has added new colors to their palette and done a fine job integrating them.
Once again, Goldfrapp has followed their peculiar, perverse muse with typically sublime results. Highly recommended. —Jay Ditzer