Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Music Review, Brent Best "Your Dog Champ"

Brent Best, lead player of on-again, off-again alt-country rock band Slobberbone, has released his first solo album, Your Dog, Champ. The rowdy, raucous, Texas roots humor of his band is greatly subdued on this effort, resulting in a low-key, sweet country sound that celebrates the cycle of life and death from a child’s perspective, with just a touch of adult cynicism.

The 11 tracks can be heard as a suite of songs that collectively conjure a paradox of Americana culture with songs bursting in rural Texas charm, even as a sack of newborn kittens are being drowned in the pond. Back porch camaraderie, cigarettes and beer, and dusty dirt and steaming blacktop roads are intertwined with references to absent and violent fathers, single-parent mothers, and lives unfulfilled.

The childhood perception of death is delicately examined in “Aunt Ramona”, a song of an Oklahoma-to-Texas family road trip in which the title subject possesses “the smell of perfume and sweet ammonia” as she quietly passes away in the back seat. “None of us could wake her, daddy said that was fine”, the child recalls as Best’s organ flirts with a sad lullaby, and gentle acoustics seem resigned to the realization that death is as peaceful and ordinary as an afternoon nap.

“Robert Cole” also reveals a child’s interpretation of tragedy, and the shaping of identity, as domestic abuse – slamming doors, enraged voices, and a cowering woman – is remembered wistfully and painfully and set against a lofty and mournful ballad in which the narrator dares to take solace on the blacktop road “where I was not to walk ’till I was old.”

Songs like “Daddy Was a Liar”, where daddy at the pond has “a bag of kittens and a brick”, and “Good Man Now”, where it is told, “The only good man is a dead man/Daddy is a good man now”, put a positive spin on the nastiest of scenarios while stressing the cardiac ache in “heart-achy”. This is gritty stuff and Best breezes through it with a naturalistic poetic flare. It is, at times, downright touching.

The country musicians backing up Best, particularly on fiddle (Ralph White), violin (Petra Kelly), and pedal steel guitar (Burton Lee), are a tidy group of players who masterfully accentuate Best’s narration like polished journeymen and can pick up the tempo when need be. “Tangled”, with its American Indian vibe, tethers on a jangle of steel guitar, and the sumptuous instrumental “Travel, Again” whips up dust and tumbleweeds like a tornado rolling across the Texas prairie.

this article was first published at

Movie Review: "Lambert and Stamp", The Story of The Who's Early Managers

Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp are not names that ring familiar in the annals of rock and roll history, let alone as subjects of a full-length, Sundance-debuted documentary Lambert and Stamp. The pair were the unlikely business mangers of the rock phenomena known as The Who, and this movie, directed by James D. Cooper, is the story of their brief and ingenious tenure as pathfinders to what would become one of the hottest bands on the planet.

As aspiring filmmakers at England’s famed Shepperton Film Studios (which The Who later purchased) in the early 1960s, Lambert and Stamp concocted a plan to create a movie about the burgeoning London mod youth subculture of music, sex, drugs, motor bikes and plaid dress suits, by filming a representative teenage rock ‘n roll band. Although they had specifics in mind (being like The Beatles would help tremendously) the two were prepared to sign nearly any rock band to a contract.

With no knowledge of how to manage a rock band, and little cash to support their enterprising ambition, the two, with film cameras in tow, stepped into a shabby London dive club, The Railway Hotel (since demolished) and crudely filmed their first meeting with the club’s house band, The Who – Roger Daltrey, Peter Townsend, John Entwhistle, and Keith Moon – known then as The High Numbers. On lovingly restored, grainy 16 mm black and white film, and with mod teenagers dancing in what looked like a collective glue sniffing trance, The Who are filmed agreeing to the novice business manager’s offers of support, guidance, and promised cash. The rest is Who history.

That Lambert and Stamp filmed and preserved so much historic footage may be reason enough for this patchy documentary’s existence. Lambert’s movie camera reveals a gritty and greasy, street level, mid-century British subculture of rebelling mods and rockers, as eye-popping montages – Jimi Hendrix is seen clubbing in quiet, common revelry – pass by as if unheralded (the duo would later manage and produce Hendrix).

While these images are intriguing and nostalgia soaked in the first half of the documentary, they grow a wee tiresome as the film rolls on. The movie’s main subjects – Lambert and Stamp – are less exciting than the momentous figures around them – namely The Who. The narrative arch is shallower than it might be had this simply been a documentary of The Who.

Kit Lambert, son of noted British composer Constant Lambert, and Chris Stamp, brother of actor Terrance Stamp (both Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp are now deceased) are nearly incidental characters who serve as mere rungs on the ladder of The Who’s impeding superstardom. The duo are just short of fascinating and this documentary is elusive in defining just what their contribution to rock and roll history is – were they pioneering visionaries or manipulative opportunists?

Surviving Who members Roger Daltrey and Peter Townsend speak glowingly throughout the film about them and claim them to be instrumental to The Who’s survival and success. Still, a slow burn emerges as they recount Lambert’s attempt to peddle Townsend’s rock opera “Tommy” to Hollywood film studios without the band’s permission after the album’s phenomenal success. This brought an end to the relationship between The Who and Lambert & Stamp.

There is so much never seen before film footage here, it is no question that Lambert and Stamp’s archive of moving images begged to be put in perspective. Watching a young Peter Townsend debut an acoustic and virgin “Glittering Girl” to the duo is a priceless rock ‘n roll moment. Witnessing the late and somewhat tragic Keith Moom as a young, enthusiastic and playful drummer is part sad and part joyful.

Yet an all encompassing history of The Who during this era is what this archive of film really amounts to. The weird point of view that is Lambert & Stamp, although enticing enough to send me to Wikipedia for further innuendo, seems an incomplete afterthought, as if their history has not been fully disclosed.

this article was first published at

Music Review: Giant Sand "Heartbreak Pass"

Maybe Giant Sand’s new album Heartbreak Pass is inspired by a genuine middle-age heart attack. Founder and only constant band member Howe Gelb sings about everyday existence as if coming from a life renewing, post-traumatic point of view.
But as most middle-agers experiencing an eye-opening realization of mortality can attest, living life with profound respect grows tiresome. Eventually the grind of living anchors itself back into place and the mortal clock is again damned and ignored. In Heartbreak Pass, there seems to be children, grandchildren, wives, and ex-wives to contend with.
Giant SandGelb wants to stop and smell the roses, or as in the case here, contemplate the flickering wick of a gypsy candle (on “Gypsy Candle”), but familial and financial responsibilities rob him of his selfish perspective. While singing a revelatory appreciation for the mundane, he eyes a peaceful and secure future of sunsets, rocking chairs, and children playing on the lawn. “When this day is done…” he lazily and melodically repeats on the same titled track, as if having all the time in the world to soak up a Burt Bacharach-styled easy listening afternoon, a sound this album often reflects.
The band – Gelb and a revolving door of players over the years – celebrates its 30th anniversary with Heartbreak, and except for the Euro synth and London fog-inducing sound of “Transponder” (lavishly produced by Grandaddy’s Jason Lytle), it sounds like a Howe Gelb solo album. The songs are strictly singer-songwriter style, and any additional musicianship – solo trumpet, lead guitar, etc. – sounds distant and alienated, like from another recording session.

Giant Sand’s aging sun is best captured in “Texting Feist,” in which Gelb surrenders the studied observation that “The days become a Leonard Cohen medley.” Indeed, Cohen’s breezy soft acoustics and low-key vocal musings are an inspiration here, as is the lounge piano tinkering of Lambchop’s Kurt Wagner.
Gelb has stripped away the cluttering pop music adornments normally found in Giant Sand’s music, and has left lovely bare bones. “Gypsy Candle” and “Pen to Paper”, vocal duets with Lorna Beth Kelley, are particularly stark and minimal, as if contemplating a long and languid day’s journey into night.
And yet as sweet and solemn as this all is, I’d prefer he’d gone more in the direction of “Transponder,” in which he escapes his bursting-at-the-seams home life tranquility for a dutiful concert tour of Europe. Here, with layers of minor chord keyboards, sound effects, and stoner observations (“Across the pond you’re a transponder”), he ignites the flame that keep the home embers, however dull and domestic, burning.

this article was first published at