Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Turn Up That Noise!

By Stephen Grimstead

JANUARY 5, 1998:  As the new year bumps the old one out of the way, it’s time once again for a brief assessment of music deemed by the following Flyer reviewers to have been inappropriately excluded from coverage in the Noise column during 1997…

June Tabor, Aleyn (Green Linnet Records)

June Tabor possesses one of the most distinctive and expressive voices in British folk music. For over two decades now she’s collaborated with the U.K.’s folk elite, but she’s always followed her own path. Although well-respected by her peers, Tabor is a bit too daring and experimental to suit most purists’ tastes; no matter how traditional her material, she always manages to instill a bit of a punk attitude into everything she covers. Her latest CD, the excellent Aleyn, is no exception.

Tabor is one of those rare artists who can infuse contemporary meaning into a tune plucked from any culture, time, or place. Whether a song is five or 500 years old, from Barbados or Eastern Europe, she can deftly find a message for our own times in her readings of such material. And her rich, low register is perfectly suited for Aleyn’s chilling true stories of tragedy and injustice. Always the champion of the underdog and the oppressed, Tabor addresses such disparate violations as the Holocaust, a West Indian slave’s lot, and a police incident in 1950s London with her usual mixture of panache and pathos.

Although it’s usually foolhardy to cover a classic, Tabor doesn’t disappoint with her take on Richard Thompson’s “The Great Valerio.” Accompanied only by a dirge-like accordion and violin, her version is almost frightening in its intensity. Likewise, she imbues the old Scottish Irish ballad, “I Wonder What’s Keeping My True Love Tonight” with a longing so fierce it’s almost palpable. Tabor learned the haunting “Di Nakht,” sung in Yiddish, from a female survivor of Auschwitz. (The album title is Yiddish for “alone.”) As always, she interprets traditional British folk ballads with the beauty, balls, and spirit of an avenging angel. – Lisa Lumb

The Evinrudes, The Evinrudes (self-released)

One pleasant surprise this year came from this five-song EP by the Nashville trio the Evinrudes. From the opening bars of the lead track, “Drive Me Home,” Sherry Cothran’s achy vocals sound more than a little like Sheryl Crow. But then…what’s this? A sense of humor? The Evinrudes fake one way, but go another, playing the sombreness of latter-day feminist folk-pop off the pleasingly light, goofball lyrics of guitarist Brian Reed. And by the time Cothran mocks Van Gogh for dying a “penniless fool” when he “shoulda painted on velvet – dogs playing pool” you realize this wasn’t the record you thought it was.

The other surprise – this one for the band – is the record’s early success. What started as a demo ended up selling 3,000 copies in a few months, spurred by heavy airplay in Nashville for the first single, “Drive Me Home.” And that track’s not even the real winner. The name-dropping “Somewhere In California” – which goofs on everyone from Anne Boleyn to Bob Dylan and is scheduled to be the group’s next single – is the authentic pop gem here. – Jim Hanas

The Chemical Brothers, Dig Your Own Hole (Astralwerks)

In 1997, the relative commercial success of Manchester, England’s Chemical Brothers’ Dig Your Own Hole did much to establish electronica as the newest Holy Grail quest throughout the ranks of record-label A&R executives/lemmings. But one can’t hold that against the Bros – phatness is supplanted by immensity on this hugely satisfying CD, and if the music makes money for its creators in the process, fine.

The Chemical Brothers have traveled an appreciable distance since ’95’s Exit Planet Dust, artistically and otherwise. Although the duo still mostly subscribe to the tyranny of the beat, Dig intermittently indicates a willingness to venture into sonic territories which are not necessarily dance-friendly – a healthy sign of hunger and growth, I’d say.

Better digging through chemistry? Stand by… – Stephen Grimstead

Robert Mitchum, Tall Dark Stranger (Bear Family [Import])

The world lost much more than just another Hollywood star with Robert Mitchum’s passing on July 1, 1997, a few weeks shy of his 80th birthday. As the walking definition of cool, eternal bad boy Mitchum power-glided his way through 126 films, becoming a cultural icon in the process. Media reports of Mitchum’s death were disappointingly paltry when compared to the extensive coverage the beloved Jimmy Stewart received when he died the following day.

To help rectify this lamentable situation, Germany’s Bear Family Records rises to the rescue once again with the timely Mitchum tribute CD, Tall Dark Stranger. Featuring six songs recorded in 1947 for “Rachel And The Stranger,” seven previously unreleased crooner-style demos from 1956, and the title song and reprise from “Young Billy Young” (1969), this affectionately assembled CD reveals a side of Mitchum we rarely glimpsed – that of folksinger and balladeer.

Tall Dark Stranger completes Mitchum’s recorded legacy, with his Capitol (calypso album and “Ballad of Thunder Road” single) and Monument (country LP) sessions previously documented on the Bear Family That Man CD (see last year’s year-end-review round up for more details). A stunning, profusely illustrated, 72-page color booklet with filmography accompanies this rarities CD, making Tall Dark Stranger an essential purchase.

Real men like Robert Mitchum are in danger of extinction these days, and once Frank Sinatra’s gone, we’re on our own. Tall Dark Stranger stands as a reminder of Mitchum’s enduring versatility, remaining true to himself in spite of the inferior material that was often thrown his way. – David D. Duncan

Jazz that fell through the cracks…

Musical visionary Henry Threadgill’s Where’s Your Cup (Columbia) features his new electric band, Make A Move, driven by Tony Cedras’ accordion and harmonium. Threadgill creates fascinating atmospheric music, filled with moody darkness and some brightly dense controlled mayhem. It’s a profound and brilliant offering from this alto-sax master. Steve Lacy and Mal Waldron’s Communiqué (Soul Note) is a compelling and challenging series of duets between former Mingus pianist Waldron and the remarkable soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy. Originals mix with Mingus and Monk tunes, and the interplay between the two is extraordinary.

Two piano trios struck a responsive chord this year. Danish bassist Niels-Henning Ørsted Pederson’s Friends Forever (Milestone) is a moving disc, pivoting between NHOP’s solid and melodic bass playing and some lush and incredible piano-playing from the up-and-coming Canadian master Renee Rosnes. Usually known for his highly creative and wonderful large band compositions and arrangements, pianist Rodney Kendrick’s We Don’t Die We Multiply (Verve) features his extraordinary trio of bassist Tarus Mateen and drummer Turu Alexander. Kendrick wears a Monkish hat on this fiery, impassioned, and well-executed set of trio pieces. – Gene Hyde

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