Genre-hopping sophomore classic from N.Y.C. alt-country avatars.
Being part of the mid-'80s proto- Americana movement cheekily dubbed "The New Sincerity" was a double-edged sword. On the one hand, roots-rock bands such as the Silos, Long Ryders, Green on Red, and the True Believers operated with pure creative freedom while tapping a supportive college radio-punk club network. Not to mention that for a spell, the British press treated 'em like conquering gods—shades of White Stripes and Strokes!--when they crossed the pond. The flip side? In the pre-No Depression and pre-alterna/ grunge era, those groups' flannel-flyin' anti-images conspired to lock 'em into a ghetto. Forget landing any MTV high rotation or Rolling Stone covers, despite the fact that they could rock with the kind of vengeance suicidal junkie crybabies like Kurt Cobain would never muster.
No matter; with key artifacts reissued, the music's in hand. The Silos—formed around '85 in N.Y.C. by Florida expats Walter Salas-Humara and Bob Rupe—issued their second album, Cuba, in 1987. A heady m鬡nge of Creedence Clearwater choogle ("Tennessee Fire," which appears twice—one version a nine-minute live bonus cut), Byrdsian cosmic country-garage twang ("For Always"), and Velvet Underground-esque serpentine throb ("All Falls Away," featuring a psychedelic guitar-fiddle jam that brings to mind a showdown between Lou Reed and viola abuser John Cale), it's a restless, genre-hopping classic. Liner notesman Anthony DeCurtis calls it "a journey filled with longing, loss, warmth and wonder," going on to peg it as a musical talisman from the era—"a document, a memory map." Indeed. A vindication, as well. FRED MILLS
MICHAEL J SHEEHY
No Longer My Concern
Leonard Cohen aftermath for a Tindersticks theme lounge.
Whenever I hear a song with lyrics about cats, a certain inner warning bell chimes with dissonance and displeasure. When I heard a post-House Painters Mark Kozelek sing one a while back, I wanted to vomit—and when former Dream City Film Club guitarist/singer Michael J Sheehy sings about his kitty slinking around the yard on the first track of his third solo full-length, a similar reaction stirs inside me. Don't get me wrong; I like cats as much as the next gal, if not more, it's just that I can't help but cringe when I hear someone outside of preschool singing about them. As it turns out, My Concern is a mostly warm and romantic, though ultimately misguided, chamber-pop effort. Tracks like "Teardrop Time," as well as the aforementioned opener, "Distracting Yourself From the Doom" (with the exception of its feline fancy), sound like Chuck Bukowski meeting halfway with Mark Lanegan or Neil Halstead. Based on lonely piano lines and often accented only by an acoustic guitar and an upright bass, many of the songs are reminiscent of both Bookends-era Simon and Garfunkel and Cat Power's Moon Pix. Elsewhere, the North London native diversifies his sound with Hammond organs, slide guitars, vaguely gothic blues, some pale country twang, and the O Brother-like bluegrass numbers, "Mary, Bloody Mary 1" and "Mary, Bloody Mary 2." Smokey and evocative when they work, but disappointingly off-the-mark and overly ambitious (see "Swing Low") when they don't, these songs will nonetheless likely soundtrack the breakups and heartaches of many aging urban anglophiles. LAURA CASSIDY
The Beauty of 23
Chapel Hill combo offers up some sweet Southern comfort—power pop style.
In the mid-'80s, the jangly, post-psychedelic folk-rock vibe as epitomized by early R.E.M. came to be mythologized as the "Southern kudzu-pop sound." There really was no such thing, at least not when one examines nationwide evidence and finds similar pockets of localized "scenes" where jangledom simultaneously came into vogue. Still, the myth, along with the resulting influence, spread like the Chinese weed itself. To this day, yours truly can't resist a chiming guitar, a Byrds/Beatles chord progression, or a sweet harmony vocal when they originate from below the Mason-Dixon Line. Into this picture steps Chapel Hill's Glory Fountain and their second album, The Beauty of 23. Vocalist/guitarist Lynn Blakey was in the final incarnation of Let's Active, while John Chumbris is a multi-instrumentalist whose r鳵m頳tretches all the way back to the '70s as a member of D.C.'s legendary psychedelic punks the Slickee Boys; together with Tarheel producer Mitch Easter, the pair serves up, if not a wall- to-wall Rickenbacker fest, a power- pop feast. From the shimmery, Zeitgeist/Reivers-styled glow of "Texas Song" and the aquatic psychedelic refractions of "Blue Eyes" to the X-esque (thanks to the Blakey-Chumbris vocals) "Blame Love" and the Richard and Linda Thompson-like "Rosary," there's nary a (ringing) note missed. Also included is a Townes Van Zandt cover, "Flying Shoes" (in concert they pull off solid versions of "Dancing Barefoot," "All Things Must Pass," "Tower Song," and "Thirteen"). Nice to know that in our collective musical heart, telltale little green kudzu tendrils can still be spotted poking out from the edges. FRED MILLS