Steve Holtje has been an editor since 1987 (Creem, CDNOW.com) and a music critic since 1990. He is currently the label manager of ESP-Disk’, and the content editor of CultureCatch.com. Among his publishing credits is MusicHound Jazz: The Essential Album Guide (Schirmer Trade Books, 1998). He has additionally worked for jazz record labels and as a music printer. He is also a composer.
Wright…has been writing more deeply personal songs on recent albums, just from the greater perspective gained from dealing with all aspects of life over a long period of time. Recently, death in the family more keenly focused this tendency, and the hard-earned result is a touching album of plainspoken truths.
You’ve probably heard by now that for his umpteenth album, Neil Young chose to sing (mostly) American (mostly) folk songs. It seemed like a good idea, and I wanted to like this album. I’m a huge Neil Young fan — I’ve even been known to defend the merits of Landing on Water. So yes, I wanted to like it, but I just can’t.
A concert remake of Miles Davis’s seminal fusion album Bitches Brew.
Occupying the middle ground between the more ethereal Brock Van Wey and the darker and dirtier Thomas Watkiss, this is an exceptional debut.
It was a great honor and a pleasure to be able to provide music before, between, and after the great bands that played the first night of the Big Takeover’s 30th Anniversary festival at Bell House. Here are my playlists, with the performing bands also listed to provide context.
Tonight’s the Night is ragged, bleak, weird. It must have come as a complete shock to label executives hoping for more mellow classics along the lines of “Heart of Gold.” It sat unreleased for two years.
Yes, Teenage Fanclub is incredibly consistent, but there’s a huge amount of sonic variety on this album; it’s easy to imagine the guys spending five years saying “how about if we add banjo here?”
The original material is practically irrelevant; what matters is that Maherr has crafted seductively dark and textured swathes of sound.
Simone recasts ancient blues songs by Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe McCoy to create the epic opening track “Levee/1927.”
Rock is often called the music of rebellion, but rarely is it so true as here. Koes Bersaudara ended up in jail for three months in 1965 for playing Beatles songs in their concert sets.
Morrissey cited them as a favorite, but really, who doesn’t like them? Their 1988 debut album Lovely, with its hit single “Crash,” still sounds great, as does the follow-up, Pure. Lovely showed more musical range than much of the competition.
This soundtrack for Marc Craste’s animated film Varmints is absolutely beautiful, of course, yet with an austere elegance and the occasional dissonant edge.
The fertility and innovation of the Athens, GA music scene in the late ’70s/early ’80s is legendary (B-52s, Pylon, Love Tractor, R.E.M.). Now, in the wake of DFA’s wonderful Pylon reissues, Acute, which has long had an interest in that period if not that locale, blesses us with more brilliant material from that time and place.
There’s a buzz about this 1974 album among collectors of vintage psychedelia and prog-rock; quite a rarity, the original LPs — only 200 pressed — were supposedly going for as much as $1000 in online auctions (the highest I saw was $800).
This album was inspired by Merritt’s image of ’60s folk music – big-production folk with dazzlingly complex arrangements.
A spectacularly intense yet intimate performance by a still-hungry young artist on the rise.
The music here is denser, heavily grounded in low drones; its thrums and buzzes are more genuinely industrial in tone than the Industrial genre ever was.
This album often suggests the feelings from a nerve stretched taut and sawed at. Don’t put this on for a comfortable listen; put it on for intense and disturbing catharsis.
Some of the songs here seem like folk disguised with electric guitar, beautiful and personal in their expression.
This is soul offering little uplift (some hypnotic grooves and the momentum built from insistent repetition) but plentiful painful catharsis.
Drums and Wires, released 30 years ago (August 17, 1979), initiated XTC Mark II.
Jazz drum great Rashied Ali died on Wednesday after a heart attack.
The way the droning, slowly percolating textures are electronically treated is redolent of the fuzzy friendliness of laptop ambient, while the arc structures sound completely composed and their long, slow crescendos will sound familiar to post-rock fans, but with mirroring decrescendos instead of pounding climaxes.
They were basically a modern classical chamber group playing written music, but they played at rock clubs, and despite the unusual instrumentation Birdsongs rocked hard – in a looping, minimalist way.
“Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth.”
SY has a great sound, and even when the lyrics are silly or lackadaisical, Lee and Thurston’s distinctive guitar timbres push all the right buttons. They invented this sound/style, and despite all the bands influenced by it over the past three decades, they’re still the best.
Certainly the 40th anniversary of Astral Weeks deserved to be celebrated, but conceptually, it was a bit odd to present one of the most intimate albums in rock history at the Hollywood Bowl, capacity 17,376. But what could’ve been a disaster proved a triumph.
What’s great about the Nigeria 70 compilations is that they give us a fuller context in which to view the stars.
One of the great post-punk bands, 23 Skidoo probably owes its relative obscurity (compared to pals Cabaret Voltaire) to its frequent and radical style-shifts.
Here are six of my favorite Gayle albums. Most are imports, out of print, poorly distributed, or combinations of those states, but a look at Amazon shows that they can be found.
On their fourth album together, KOEN HOLTKAMP and BRENDON ANDEREGG construct sonic landscapes that mix their anti-virtuoso/timbre-focused playing of musical instruments, field recordings, and electronic treatments.
Tonight (Friday 1/30, 6:30) Shiraishi will be at Japan Society, reading with Itaru and participating in a discussion moderated by Forrest Gander. Saturday afternoon at 2 she will be at the Bowery Poetry Club, again with Itaru, who is quite a wonderful and imaginative player; also reading will be Beat legend Ira Cohen, health permitting, and Steve Dalachinsky, who will furthermore pitch in with Shiraishi on the English/Japanese tandem parts. I will be there.
Another year, another fine show from Neil Young’s archives. This one is compiled from two solo acoustic shows on consecutive nights in Ann Arbor, before his solo debut had been released.
Nobody else has reimagined the basics of rock so drastically or so well in a long time.
I don’t often wish I were in Los Angeles, but if I could be there November 7-8 at the Hollywood Bowl, I would, because forty years after its November 1968 release, Van Morrison will be performing his album Astral Weeks with two of the musicians he recorded it with.
October 1973 (35 years ago) marked ABC’s last-ditch attempt to garner a hit for this album: They released the single “My Old School,” backed by “Pearl of the Quarter.” It didn’t work.
Fasteau will be playing this Tuesday, October 14 at 10 PM at Bowery Poetry Club, 308 Bowery, NYC with Clif Jackson (bass), Ron McBee (percussion, berimbau), and guests. This is part of the monthly ESP-Disk series at BPC.
For male vocalists in pop music, it’s the tenors who get all the glory, but in jazz and much soul it’s the baritones, and when I saw this San Francisco-based veteran compared to JOE WILLIAMS and LOU RAWLS, I was eager to check him out.
All of this supporting/surrounding lyrics of desolate debauchery, anomie, and despair, as though trying to turn “Holocaust” into party music.
Using a combination of the original session tapes, demos, and newly recorded parts, near the end of last year the band put out a version conforming to their own sound rather than their producers’. Three decades on, the classic underneath the bad production has been revealed, proving that the excitement they generated in their home base of Los Angeles was not mere hype.
Levin, a grizzled veteran by now, has come to a distinctive style that, while certainly inspired by his predecessors’ work, is never obviously derivative of anyone in particular. Nor does it stand in one place; Levin is just as likely to play a melodic phrase as to unleash flying flurries of evolving patterns arpeggiated and/or scalar or soar into the altissimo register of his tenor in ecstatic exultation.
Part of a trilogy, this is darkwave ambient music, quiet but with serrated edges on its drones. There’s nothing new agey about this ambient, which makes for uneasy listening with its buzzing and clanking amid the drones and a glacial pace of movement that oozes foreboding.
Yeah, the chiming guitars and chord progression of “Graveyard Girl” keep threatening to turn into “Money Changes Everything,” but that fits well with the ‘80s love on display throughout – usually much more synthpop, of course.
LARRY KIRWAN, the leader of Black 47, is no Toby Keith – he’s his diametrical opposite on the political spectrum – so this is no rah-rah “support our troops” tripe.
Hebb’s soft voice is as warm and charming as it was on “Sunny” back in ‘66, and the tasteful arrangements are smoothly authentic.
After listening to their great Escape from Dragon House practically every day for most of last summer, I wasn’t sure whether a new album could captivate as strongly, but after two plays this had its hooks in me.