Skygreen Leopards

Plus CD Reviews of The Modernist, Lucinda Williams, and the Hightone Records Story.

The Skygreen Leopards

Disciples of California

(Jagjaguwar)

These dudes seem to have gotten lost in this whole "freak folk" movement. Or at least that's what their record label says. I'm not sure how a band gets lost; they seem to find me every fucking day on MySpace. Anyway, besides all that bullshit, we have some pretty great tunes here. On "Places West of Shawnapee," Skygreen Leopards sound like Beachwood Sparks on an unlimited supply of dope. Focused, you could call it. The good-time California vibes permeate throughout on tunes like "Jesus Was Californian," where the band lazily finds itself retelling the immaculate conception. I think they're just trying to be cute by calling Jesus a Californian, as we all know Jesus was a Capricorn carpenter from Israel. Unless they're talking 'bout Jesus from Burrito King, but I don't think he was born in California, either. Obviously there's an overall nod to the Golden State on Disciples, and maybe you have to live there to know what that means, but you can totally feel it in the music. It's that feeling when you ain't got nothing to do and you actually feel pretty good about not doing it. You could be sitting on the porch, smoking a joint, listening to this record all summer long, and when your mom calls to let you know that she put the money in your bank account, you can tell her what a busy day you had. JED MAHEU

The Modernist

Collectors Series Pt. 1: Popular Songs

(Faith)

Contemporary electronica's ability to recover the spirit of "alternative" is well-demonstrated in techno trio Repair, whose pop-friendliness landed them bookend spots on Collectors, the first release on a label begun by former K7! and Rough Trade execs. It's the year's best minimal comp, and Cologne producer the Modernist (Jörg Burger)—whose multialiased work appears here—is its fitting mastermind. His sense of what appeals to the exiled alternative-waver (who might wonder why people don't love Aphex Twin and the Cocteau Twins equally) is immaculate. The mix hovers around 2002, and the nostalgic pairing of Telepopmusik's "Breathe" with Dntel's "(This Is) The Dream of Evan and Chan" is so obvious it's genius. Burger folds these beloved tracks into less commercial ones, touching the mix anyone could make with a producer's privileged glitter. Collectors sparkles with the exclusive remix of Ada's "Livedriver," the snippet of Oxtongue's "Delight" over Richard Davis' "World Disappears," and Autosundmädchen's "Alltag"—a dreamy cover of Prefab Sprout's "All the World Loves Lovers." Burger's mix is a gift to electro-pop fans, and an invitation to everyone else. You can have the best of both worlds—just believe. RACHEL SHIMP

Lucinda Williams

Car Wheels on a Gravel Road (Deluxe Edition)

(Lost Highway)

There's not a shovel full of praise that's ever been heaped upon the inimitable Lucinda Williams that hasn't been extremely well deserved. This includes Time magazine's lofty 2001 claim that she is America's best songwriter. Herein, Williams' singular masterpiece is widely considered to be 1998's Car Wheels on a Gravel Road. The album, a stylistically dynamic lyrical road trip through the rural South, captures the cultural rhythm and permutations of that region as adroitly as has ever been done on record. Perhaps because of Car Wheels' supreme focus, her subsequent releases, 2001's Essence and 2003's World Without Tears, while generally well received, were needled a bit for being comparatively aimless. Notoriously tedious in the studio, Williams counteracts that tendency by touring constantly. Since 2005, Williams has been road testing a ton of new material that sounds perfectly fresh and wonderful—which makes this Car Wheels (Deluxe Edition) smell like a stall tactic. If Williams is nervous about comparisons of her current work to her '98 masterpiece, why would she reissue said masterpiece? Then again, there is a second disc of killer live material accompanying the original Car Wheels studio versions—not to mention two previously unreleased bonus tracks. All of which makes the deluxe edition a better buy for the Williams novice than the original, while providing enough luscious live Lucinda to entice the diehards. If only all procrastination were this satisfying. MIKE SEELY

Various Artists

The Hightone Records Story

(Hightone Records)

The Hightone Records Story is extremely likable in concept. The imprint is a hardworking indie out of Oakland that has spent the last 20 years documenting modern roots music. In fact, Hightone has released records by some of the last great bluesmen, including R.L. Burnside, Pinetop Perkins, Otis Rush, Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, and Henry Gray (all of whom are featured on this four-disc label retrospective). But the majority of this box set consists of legendary musicians sadly past their prime (Sonny Burgess and Hank Thompson), such costumed retro novelties as Big Sandy, and an ungodly number of country and "Americana" acts from the '80s and early '90s that all sound a little too much like John Cocaine Mellencamp during his "Pink Houses" phase. I mean, this stuff (the Blasters, Ted Roddy, the Skeletons, etc.) is just so totally retro that it makes even the Jayhawks sound edgy by comparison, which is ironic because America's folk tradition used to champion mavericks and radicals. At least, that's what Bob Wills taught us. JUSTIN F. FARRAR

 
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