George Jones; Queens of the Stone Age; Cal Tjader and Mongo Santamaria; Bright Eyes

| 16 Feb 2015 | 04:57

    I'm starting to accept something I only suspected in high school?death rock didn't have shit on country music. If you're thinking of leaving your wife, slapping the kids around or simply kicking the dog off the front porch, buy this record. George Jones is a man who's made mistakes. Learn from him, as here he's in a lot of pain because of them. And I mean a lot of pain. This isn't a Neil Young/Blood on the Tracks "being an alcoholic is empowering" or "getting dumped is romantic" pity-party-in-your-room scene. If you're depressed and you put this shit on, it'll make Songs of Love and Hate seem like something really, really smiley. "With the blood from my body/I could start my own still" is only one of the many hard, hard truths laid down in "If Drinkin' Don't Kill Me (Her Memory Will)." Or how about "As I look in the mirror this morning/On some dirty ol' restroom wall/It took a while to realize/It's really me there inside" because "I've Aged Twenty Years In Five." That brings back memories of touring with a band, and I only did it for a nine days!

    Track 13 (one of the bonus tracks previously unreleased) should be dedicated to divorced dads all over the world, and "Bone Dry" to everyone going cold turkey, as George knows better than anybody "It's hard comin' down/From a permanent high." The picture on page 4 of the liner notes pretty much says it all, excluding of course the priceless quote about the song "He Stopped Loving Her Today," in which Jones says he "expressed concern to producer Billy Sherrill that the song might be too sad." No shit! This is Jones' historic comeback record, and although he only wrote one of these tracks (make that co-wrote), it did the trick. Of course after its release he was in a televised police chase while drunk-driving through Nashville, but that's another story.

    In short, this is drinking music to rival the Pogues. Just make sure you're in your happy place when you put it on. And I mean that to be taken as: get in your happy place fast.

    Tanya Richardson


    Rated R Queens of the Stone Age (Polydor) Economy. Heaviness. Repetition. What more do you require from your rock? Heaviness. Economy. Repetition. A couple of guitar riffs would be nice, maybe a few paranoid lyrics. Josh Homme's Queens of the Stone Age have all the bases covered within the first two songs on this, their second album. "Feel Good Hit of the Summer"?which is almost unbearably catchy through the simple expediency of matching the Knack's jerkiness with That Guitar Riff From Nirvana?lists all the band's favorite drugs. "The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret" has the whole paranoia thang down pat. Indeed, "Leg of Lamb" also has a corking guitar riff and meaty lyrics?the guitar riff this time being That One From Radiohead. What else can you ask of rock music? Repetition. Economy. Heaviness.

    I don't mean to make it sound like the Queens borrow unduly from those who've gone before. They don't?well, no more than anyone else. They're just more finely honed, more aware of what they like and don't like. And anyhow, if Rated R recalls a time at all, it's the early 70s. Back when Black Sabbath were singing about fairies in boots and rhyming "masses" with "masses" and proving the truth in the saying "three chords good, four chords bad." Back when the Stooges still had a purpose (yeah, such a year did exist). Back when rock was still rock, men were still men and small purple flowering weeds at the bottom of my garden were still small purple flowering weeds at the bottom of my garden.

    This is a great album. Seriously. It says on the piece of paper in front of me that that's only what you should expect from a band formed out of the touring guitarist with Screaming Trees, a member of the Dwarves and a handful of Kyuss sorts...but frankly, the only thing I'd usually expect from such a lineup is chronic self-indulgence coupled with pretensions above and beyond the call of duty. But this? This is an exhilarating exercise in economy, heaviness and repetition (have I said that already?) with a little psychedelia thrown in. From the brittle catchiness of "Auto Pilot" to Mark Lanegan's guest vocals on the swirling "In the Fade," this album doesn't fuck around. Metal was a good, a decent, a proper thing. It's about time someone finally realized that.

    Everett True


    Black Hawk Nights Cal Tjader (Fantasy) Greatest Hits Mongo Santamaria (Columbia/Legacy) Afro American Latin Mongo Santamaria (Columbia/Legacy) Mongo Santamaria arrived in the U.S. (via Cuba) in 1950; he performed stints with two of the leading mambo bandleaders who'd already achieved émigré status as well as success in the New York jazz scene. One was Perez Prado, probably the pre-eminent exponent of Latin music in the early 50s; the other was Tito Puente, who helped spread the Latin influence throughout the jazz world. Through his stints with these bands, Santamaria became one of the most sought-after conga players in the country. When he eventually relocated to the West Coast in the late 50s, he was hired by the popular vibraphonist Cal Tjader, with whom he worked off and on for three years. Tjader had a string of successful LPs during the period, for both Verve and Fantasy, including a pair of albums recorded live at the Black Hawk in San Francisco, A Night at the Black Hawk and Live and Direct.

    Black Hawk Nights is an amalgamation of those two albums, and it's a good representation of the stage in jazz where many different stylings were coming together under one tent: cool, hard bop and bossa nova. The first six cuts, which made up the original Night at the Black Hawk and were recorded in 1958, are the more upbeat performances, with the band tearing through jazz standards like "Stompin' at the Savoy" and "A Night in Tunisia" in a kind of revivified mambo execution. There's first-rate sax soloing on the former, courtesy of Jose "Chombo" Silva, and Wynton Kellyesque piano from Vince Guaraldi. Meanwhile, Silva's laidback riffing on "Bill B." proves that the West Coast wave was still alive and well (think Gerry Mulligan). The second set of performances, dating from about a year later, are more subdued, with the vibes leading the way and no sax player. Mongo was present for both dates, and the Latin flavor of not only "Mambo Terrifico" but the band's version of Cole Porter's "I Love Paris" would point the way toward his future.

    In 1963, Mongo signed with Columbia and the result was a funky crossover hit with a heavily Latinized version of Herbie Hancock's "Watermelon Man." That cut leads off the recently reissued Greatest Hits, a compilation of the stuff Santamaria cut for Columbia during those years. A lot of it is schlock, because that's what Columbia wanted him to record. Listening to this record, it's amazing to ponder how few artists actually wrote their own material in those days, which is why Dylan and the Beatles were such a breakthrough. On this disc, one finds covers of everything from "Green Onions" to James Brown's "Cold Sweat" to "(Sittin' on the) Dock of the Bay" to "Bamba." All of it's enjoyable boogaloo, great for blasting on a summer day when the heat won't drop, and the beer on ice won't run out. Santamaria used excellent sidemen during the 60s, helping jump-start the careers of prodigies Hubert Laws (tenor sax), Sonny Fortune (alto) and Joe Farrell (tenor), among others. The result is a heavily rollicking affair as sweet, sticky and salacious as the barely dressed babes Columbia adorned his album covers with in the 60s.

    When Mongo did finally try to break out of the cover-band/party genre and wax some more ambitious (read: jazz) sides, Columbia clipped his wings. By then he'd become almost a "novelty" act, whose albums sold fairly well, and they didn't want to mess with a good thing while they had it. It's a shame, because Afro American Latin, recorded for Columbia in 1969, but rejected by the label, could've been a major breakthrough, not just for Santamaria, but for jazz as well. A minute into the disc it's evident this isn't the typical boogaloo people had been expecting from Mongo?he croons in his native tongue, summoning the Santeria god Obatala, and the music is intricate and experimental, moving through several tempo changes and dense layers of percussion and vocals. Fortune and Laws are along for the ride again and the level of performance is smokin' throughout. Best part is you also get several live tracks tacked on at the end, recorded when the band were just warming up the material on Afro American Latin the previous fall, and the energy level is atomic. Why Columbia sat on this stuff and flogged Santana is anybody's guess, but let it be known: this album's not only superior to Carlos and the boys, it kicks ass on Miles Davis as well.

    Joe S. Harrington


    Fevers And Mirrors Bright Eyes (Saddle Creek) It's rare that pop music reaches such depths of emotion. A 20-year-old Nebraskan, Conner Oberst first started detailing his desire and lack of fulfillment six years ago, as a 14-year-old prodigy in Commander Venus?and if the third album from his new band Bright Eyes is anything to go by, one can only imagine that a major cult will grow up around this mysterious ex-Catholic. If one hasn't already. (The lady behind Her Space Holiday's despair has already gone over to Oberst's side, inspiring the other band's sometimes wonderful, self-immolating Home Is Where You Hang Yourself debut.)

    Oberst has a wonderful way around a tortured motif and fuzzily-recorded guitar riff. He sometimes sings frantically, like a latter-day fucked-up Leonard Cohen, but his music?as cut-up, filled with spindly, lo-fi keyboards and drums as it is?recalls the 20s glare of Brecht's cabaret. Songs such as "The Calendar Hung Itself" and "Something Vague" also recall Daniel Johnston, both for their intensity of passion and absolute despair.

    The pivotal track is the opening "A Spindle, a Darkness, a Fever & a Necklace," wherein the Nebraskan's trembling voice attempts to answer a fuzzy recording of a child pleading a dread of separation, and fails. (Later on, there's a sequenced six -minute interview track, where Oberst tries to answer some of the questions he's set himself, but ends the chat by leaving even more unanswered.) As the record progresses, Oberst's fear of being left alone (by parents, by friends, by love) becomes ever more apparent, as the melodies turn even more poignant, more beautiful. Tinny keyboards, rapid-fire drums and the odd guitar sweeten the mix. This is a stunning, haunting album.

    Everett True