Rules for Jokers
Winning American debut from up-and-coming English folk chanteuse.
Hard to say where 21-year-old British pop-folkie Gilmore will slot in on these shores. Lacking an "angle" like, say, nubile young guitar toters Michelle Branch or Avril Lavigne, she's perhaps destined to a kind of "world cafe" purgatory haunted by aging music fans who purchase all their music at Borders. Cynicism aside, it'll be a shame if Rules for Jokers, Gilmore's U.S. debut (and third record overall) gets overlooked. It has a lushness of poetic vision that's leavened by spiky-punky confidence—like if Joni Mitchell had grown up listening to Patti Smith and paid her dues by performing Ani DiFranco covers. She's no shrinking violet. In what's structurally a wispily yearning piano/cello/acoustic guitar ballad, "Holding Your Hand," there's a deep undercurrent of darkness ("I'm gonna haunt you/Out on the other side of luck . . . on every knife edge . . . and on every needle tip/I'll be holding your hand"). Another nominally "gentle" tune, the folkish "The Things We Never Said," fairly brims with spite and bitterness: "I lipsticked 'Fuck You' on the mirror/As a mark of my respect." Not a lassie whose feelings should be trifled with. Other tunes are more sonically outgoing—the riffy, Stones-esque "Fever Beats" and the brusquely strummed "Apparition No. 12" that nods, tellingly, to Patti Smith's "Dancing Barefoot"—and hit their marks with equal directness. Gilmore, who vocally resembles another strong new female talent, ex-Whiskeytowner Caitlin Cary, has a keen grasp of how lyrics and music can force people to feel, think, and act. FRED MILLS
The Original Sound of Sheffield: '78- '82
Neuro-psychotic post-Krautdub goth noise—before there was such a thing.
Among the artists to come out of Sheffield, Yorkshire—an industrial city that has been called England's Pittsburgh—are Britpoppers Pulp, hair-metalers Def Leppard, and experimental techno freaks Autechre. But back in the mid- to late '70s, the sound of Sheffield was a tape loop carved up by quick guitar cuts, synth landslides, primitive yet experimental beats, and disembodied vocals. It was dark, dance-y, and electronic, and it was made by a three-piece named after the artist's tavern that spawned the Dadaist movement. Cabaret Voltaire—although largely overlooked even among fans of other industrial/electronic art punk luminaries like Neu! and Kraftwerk—all but officially sanctioned the more visible post-punk reactions of bands like Joy Division and Bauhaus. Given Cabaret Voltaire's relatively underground status, it's difficult to say whether similarly styled modern bands like Interpol, Mouse on Mars, Liars, and the Faint are taking their cues from brilliant early '80s efforts like 2 X 45 and The Crackdown, but the connection is certainly clear. Songs like "Split Second Feeling" and "Do the Mussolini"—though cyclical, if not linear within typical pop song time frames—lay like an immense and angular automaton skimming over the glossy black expanse of some unexplored galaxy. These songs sound best in really big rooms—like aircraft hangers, for instance. Interested parties looking for a better starting point would do well to begin with '81's Red Mecca, although this compilation (minus the throwaway Seeds cover) makes a nice singles study. I can hear the dance party DJs cuing up "Nag Nag Nag" as we speak. LAURA CASSIDY
A Cat May Look at a Queen(Absolutely Kosher)
Charming solo effort from country gentleman, philosophy professor, and sometime rock scribe.
Franklin Bruno is busy being a willingly licentious rock crit, a philosophy professor, as well as a prolific songwriter—penning not only tunes for this, his third solo CD, but the John Darnielle- duo the Extra Glenns and the entirety of Jenny Toomey's new album, to boot. What's nicest about Bruno's work is that it's nice; gentlemanly country-fed affairs brushed with cool jazz and soft Tin Pan Alley touches for a sound that places Bruno somewhere between Jim Reeves, Jerry Herman, and the Marine Girls (the flinty soft trumpeting and flirty flitting guitar give that away) with occasional Robbie Robertson huskiness (the noirish twang of "Janet Shaw") thrown in for good measure. With an all-star cast of alternatypes—wet, nylon-guitarist Joey Burns (Calexico), drummer Tommy Larkins (Jonathan Richman), and double-bassist Daniel Brodo—aiding in the effort, Bruno tells untall tales about smoking, driving, and third-wheelism ("Dashboard Issues"), old love's new warnings ("I BlameYou"), new love's old warnings ("Threadbare"), and the weight of the workaday week ("Bulk Removal Truck"). It's all rendered in a way that feels like a small child is describing the motions and emotions. OK, a really smart kid—what with Bruno's bicameral mind-sets never allowing you to forget the immediate, often ironic duality of the moment. Bruno and his crew can give it to you simple and spartanly arranged (the chilling "Dossier") or with wide-screen density (the harmonicatting Ford-like filmic prairie of "Callous"). Either way, Bruno is not selfish with his sweet melodies or his open observations. The sad hammered-piano cabaret of the title track, the hillbilly lilt of "Life on Your Lips," and the almost hopelessly hokey romanticism of Cat's two-tune/two-tone finale, "Two Purple Shadows" and "Blue's the Only Color," are Bruno's finest moments—daffy and sappy, overly articulated, and winsomely wise all at once, happily proving that Bruno may soon become an American
treasure in the vein of Hoagy Carmichael. Here's looking at you, kid. A.D. AMOROSI