Review: Jerry Jeff Walker, Vampire Weekend, etc.
You ever watch football games on TV with the sound off? I’ve done that for decades, a habit picked up when I was a sportswriter long ago – the announcers really add very little to the game. And this is a great opportunity for multi-tasking: instead of listening to Al Michaels drone on, I listen to new albums. So here you go, some new ones for 2010 and a handful left over from late last year. And they’re all pretty good:
Vampire Weekend is just about the whitest band around, but they sure don’t sound that way. On Contra, this New York quartet picks up the sprightly rhythms of African music (and on a song like “Diplomat’s Son,” reggae … is this an homage to the Clash?) and swirls them into an intoxicating blend of wordplay and jumpy dance hooks. If you liked their first record, the boys (led by singer/guitarist/songwriter Ezra Koenig) haven’t strayed far from their roots, and that’s a good thing.
Jerry Jeff Walker is one of the legendary songwriters from Texas (although like Vampire Weekend, he’s a New York native) and Moon Child is his latest release. It’s available only online, at Jerry Jeff’s website and from iTunes and Amazon.com. Jerry Jeff wrote about six of the 11 tunes here, the rest are by Jimmie Dale Gilmore and others including a version of John Denver’s “Back Home Again.” Jerry Jeff’s trademark is the bowed-but-not-broken survivor, looking forward with a peppy outlook: “The Poet Is Not In Today” fills that prescription. Moon Child is a decent dose of sunshine from a Texas treasure.
Jesse Winchester is another great singer/songwriter who’s been around a while (see our interview) and Love Filling Station is his first recorded effort in more than a decade. What a gem – Jesse reclaims his “Oh What A Thrill” from the Mavericks, who had a hit with that song, and one excellent song follows another, all enhanced by Winchester’s smooth singing. His cover of “Stand By Me” is a highlight, as is the spiritual “Far Side Bank Of Jordan.” It would be a shame if only Americana fans heard this great work – Jesse Winchester is a master American singer and songwriter.
Bob Schneider is an Austin-based singer/songwriter/bandleader who is as unpredictable on record as he is onstage. Lovely Creatures, his studio set from late last year, veers from heartfelt balladry (on “40 Dogs”) to enthusiastic funkiness (“The Bringdown”) to the tropics (“Tarantula,” “Bombanaza”). Why is this guy trying so hard? It’s almost as if he can’t be contained on one album – that’s why you have to hear Lovely Creatures … then go out and see Bob Schneider live. You won’t be disappointed.
Finally, there has been a lot of talk that actor Jeff Bridges may win a Best Actor Oscar for his starring role in the new movie Crazy Heart. It’s about a washed-up country singer trying to redeem himself, and of course it has a soundtrack album: Bridges sings a few songs (he’s OK in a growly, mumbly, Kristofferson-like way) and so does co-star Colin Farrell (!) and Robert Duvall (doing a snippet of a Billy Joe Shaver tune). But the real attraction here is Ryan Bingham’s “The Weary Kind.” The soundtrack album features that one, plus classics by the Louvin Brothers, Buck Owens, Townes Van Zandt and bluesman Lightnin’ Hopkins. This is one of those T-Bone Burnett projects, and some of the songs sung by Bridges and Farrell were written by the great Austin musician Stephen Bruton, who died last year.