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|March 19-25, 2009
Beirut, March of the Zapotec/Realpeople,
by A.D. Amorosi
This two-CD EP set comes from swooning singer/composer/Francophile Zach Condon. That means there’s already a double mindset (at least) at work and play.
The complexities fueling Condon’s mordant voice (a bit o’ Brel, some Stephin Merritt), cabaret arrangements, and distinctive lyricism were at work long before Beirut’s brand of multinational gypsy jive. That’s why Realpeople, Condon’s electronica-based pre-Beirut bedroom one-man band, is represented here. It’s vital stuff. Not just an exercise, the phase-shifting crackle on atmospheric cuts such as “Venice” prove that electronica can also be naïve folk art and that Condon’s long melodic reach has always been within his grasp. So is his power with lyrics, as in “My Night with the Prostitute From Marseille.”
Still, it’s Beirut that’s the star here. While vacationing in Oaxaca, Mexico, Condon recorded these songs in impromptu fashion with a 19-piece marching band from the area. Most tourists take snapshots. But Condon crafts his usual quaint mash-up Balkan bolero, as in the airy, waltzing “La Llorona.” There’s dirty brass and droll lyrics in “The Akara” and a merry melancholy found within the simplest melodies.
Olé. I think.
Chris Isaak, Mr. Lucky (Reprise)
by Nick Cristiano
Mr. Lucky begins with a slice of quintessential Chris Isaak: “Cheater’s Town” is steeped in brooding heartache and reverb, and signals that Isaak will be deviating little if at all from his retro stylings of the last two-plus decades.
If there’s a sense of formula to it all, Isaak continues to get considerable mileage out of it. (The freshness factor is no doubt aided by the fact it’s been seven years since his last album of new material.) There are enough new turns on the anguished, Orbisonesque ballad to make the album title seem ironic. But there are also several variations in mood and music. “We’ve Got Tomorrow” is jaunty enough to include a tuba, “Best I’ve Ever Had” is an upbeat rocker, and the thoroughly unironic “Big Wide Beautiful World” closes the show with a blast of bluesy, horn-punctuated swing.
Neko Case, Middle Cyclone (ANTI-)
by Steve Klinge
Once pigeonholed as an “alt-country chanteuse” for her powerful voice, Neko Case became recognized as a songwriting force with 2006’s Fox Confessor Brings the Flood. She’d written excellent songs for her prior albums, but Fox Confessor’s mysterious, fable-like tales were as attention-getting as her soaring, reverb-drenched vocals. The songwriting is equally sharp on Middle Cyclone, her sixth studio album. It’s rich with images of disaster, both natural and emotional, often in the service of spooky love songs.
Tornadoes, spiders, birds, guns, trains, marriage, and death: The album is a swirl of related details, and while the songs are often brief, at or under the three-minute mark, they feel expansive. Case is often bracingly direct — as on the Byrdsy animal-rights polemic “People Got a Lotta Nerve.” And she can be mysteriously open-ended, as on the twinkling acoustic ballad “Vengeance Is Sleeping.” Always, there’s that clear, passionate voice that sounds seductive even when she sings,
“The next time you say ‘forever,’ I will punch you in the face.”
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