Internal and External
The last week I’ve been re-motivated after I have, for the time being, restored my Rhapsody streaming capabilities. I’ve a number of albums in the queue waiting to be reviewed, plenty of high B Pluses and A Minuses sitting around begging to be written up. It’s always more difficult to get that first semi-intelligent line on the word doc about a band I’ve never heard before. When I know their catalog or where they’re coming from, it gets exponentially easier—I can easily draw comparisons, consider their evolution, and the works—but when I’m plunging head-first into a band with whom I’m unfamiliar, it’s not so easy, especially if that band has a long and healthy discography. Which was the case with these two. Kate Crutchfield was part of a band whose albums I can’t find unless I want to spend the few bucks I don’t have, and Billy Bragg I first encountered with Wilco, hardly representative of his long career of dabbling in folk, punk, and alternative politics. Regardless, I finally fleshed out what I honestly thought about both this morning and am sharing them with you.
BILLY BRAGG – Tooth & Nail (Cooking Vinyl): Old crow reiterates platitudes as correct thirty years ago as they are now—pondering how much hypocrisy would exist with fewer idiots, railing at banks and politicians for being themselves, musing non-cynically on nihilistic possibilities our search for the meaning of life might lead nowhere. He’s no deep-thinking philosopher and his stances are predictable left-wing diatribes, but he’s equally culpable of selfishishness and willing to admit it (“Swallow My Pride”) and more convincing about the Bible’s commandments (“Do Unto Others”) if slightly clumsier than Dylan’s Slow Train Coming. Hard to teach such relics new tricks like subtlety or humor, though I’ll take his embarrassing sincerity over indirect smugness any day of the week. A MINUS
WAXAHATCHEE – Cerulean Salt (Don Giovanni): Katie Crutchfield, formerly of P.S. Eliot, here solo and largely ‘minimalist,’ a term I hate but employ to indicate this isn’t ‘acoustic’ like American Weekend so much as a venture rarely stepping outside one or two instruments per song yet never sounds like it’s missing anything, which minimalism often connotes. And because it’s so disarmingly simple, often the drone-heavy guitars and reflective stories sift past without your noticing a well-constructed lick or put-together line: “I dreamed last night we both hit different bottoms,” she shrugs on a poetry piece on heroin addiction (“Silver spoons over fire/You tell a lazy lie/And I tell them you’re a liar”). More inwardly focused than is healthily recommended; more clean-cut, tuneful, and—get this—expansive than the debut. She can forever navel-gaze so long as she rolls out pieces so affecting. A MINUS