Here’s part three of a journey through the stack of CDs on my desk. Parts one and two appeared in the Sound Check section in the past week. I keep thinking I'll catch up at some point, but expect part four soon.
I admit that for all the hype, I’d never heard any of the previous four Keren Ann (pictured above) records, but I pretty much assumed that they were sleek, modern pop vocal records with some jazz flavor, a la Blue Note labelmate Norah Jones. But her self-titled disc is something of a low-fi masterpiece. Nine songs recorded in Iceland, Israel, New York, Paris (she lives in the latter two places), and other cities are packaged in a Spartan black and white package. Her voice is tender, achy and the songs slow and ponderous, without being weighted down or plodding. It’s more Velvets than silk and it’s getting a fair bit of time in the CD player these days.
Also challenging my hardened tastes is Neil Young’s “Live at Massey Hall 1971,” which has Young doing no-frills, straight up readings of 17 songs. I’ve never been much of a Young fan in practice, even if I credit him for his artistry in theory; I’ll admit his voice has a little something to do with this (as well as his political flip-flopping in the ‘80s, which really turned me off). But this is one Young record I enjoy, although I sure wish he did “Birds” that night. The disc comes packaged with a DVD but I’m not quite there yet.
But back to France. Groove Attack/Le Pop Musik back with another “Le Pop” compilation. The fourth installment has 16 tracks of modern chanson. It starts out a bit schmaltzy with Pierre Lapointe’s “Qu-en est-il de la chance?” but by track two – Austine’s “Rhume” -- we’re back on track with a string of smart, melodic French pop from Pascal Parisot, Dominique and a bunch more.
Still in France, the new Air record has been getting rave reviews, and that’s appropriate since “Pocket Symphony” (Astralwerks) has all the drama, atmosphere and mystery of previous Air efforts (this is the duo’s seventh disc, including soundtracks and collaborations) while adding delicious Asian influences and vocals from Britons Jarvis Cocker (late of Pulp) and Neil Hannon (The Divine Comedy).
Speaking of Astralwerks, Placebo has reissued last year’s “Meds” -- my album of the year -- with three extra tracks. “Lazarus” -- oddly inserted into the running order of the original release -- and “UNEEDMEMORETHANINEEDU” were b-sides of the “Meds” single in the U.K. and a cover of Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” previously appeared on the limited bonus disc that accompanied “Sleeping With Ghosts.” The song is being used in a fan video contest, making its re-release now appropriate.
Heartbeat has another installment in its Studio One series. “Sweet Talking” collects some of the best sides by The Heptones for Coxsone Dodd’s labels and it seems safe to say that Studio One tracks have likely never sounded as good before. The seminal “Equal Rights” sounds sparkling, but then “Pretty Looks Isn’t All” starts and sounds like a veritable rock steady symphony. During the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, few could rival Leroy Sibbles (who also played bass on many Studio One classics), Barry Llewelyn and Earl Morgan who helped usher rock steady into reggae with their sweet harmonies and Sibbles sweet style. Many of the 18 tracks here are previously unreleased on CD. There are rare stereo mixes and some extended versions, too.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.