Monday, January 18, 2010

Listening to the sounds of the recently departed: Chesnutt, Mitchell, Reatard, Howard, Pendergrass

One of Vic Chesnutt’s strongest attributes was his desire and ability at collaboration. And he seemed to have an unerring sense of just the right people to partner with in adapting his songs and shaping them into complete works that make his discography such a thick and hairy joy to absorb. AT THE CUT is the second of Vic’s team ups with Thee Silver Mt. Zion/Constellation records crew/Guy Picciotto, and it’s just as darkly folkish and moodily transcendent as NORTH STAR DESERTER. Sadly, there will be no more collabs, but the man’s music will provide endless rewards.

In addition to being a fine musician in his own right, Willie Mitchell sat in the producer’s chair at Hi Records and helped to craft some of the finest soul expression to ever hit vinyl: Syl Johnson, Ann Peebles, O.V. Wright and of course the great Al Green, whose GETS NEXT TO YOU is not only a near perfect example of the Reverend’s soul testifying, but is also a major spotlight on how Mitchell worked at harnessing and directing the energies and artistry of such a galvanizing and uplifting vocal force as Green’s.

From one Memphis great to another, the soon to be deservedly legendary Jay Reatard, doing what he did best (IMHO), on SINGLES 06-07. The guy’s short and direct bashing was surely and unapologetically in the garage-punk tradition, but his sound also encompassed such wide ranging elements as bent pop ditties and synth-punk wig-outs. He had heaviness in abundance and more hooks than a goddamned bait shop. That a compilation of his singles could solidify and flaunt the feel of a fully realized album seems like a strong and fitting tribute to a guy who left us far too soon.
I tend to think that The Birthday Party get something a bit like short shrift in the histories of the whole global post-punk scramble, and when they are discussed it’s often to just spotlight the early career of Nick Cave. Yeah, Cave was of course a huge part of what made The BP such a zonked and brutal concern, but the truth is that Nick has always been beholden to the players that surrounded him, the late Rowland S. Howard in particular. PRAYERS ON FIRE may not be the best example of Howard’s dense and damaged guitar style, but it’s surely not far from the top. Raw and thrilling sounds.

Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes were fronted on their classic early ‘70s recordings by Teddy Pendergrass, a singer so emotive and simultaneously sure footed in his range that he spent a significant amount of time as certain discerning soul aficionado’s make-out maestro of choice. This is the group’s first LP from ’72, featuring the smash classic “If You Don’t Know Me by Now”, and the grooves in total are a fine testament to the sound of soulful Philly, and to the power of Pendergrass.

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