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|August 6 - August 12, 2009
Tanya Morgan, Brooklynati (Interdependent Media)
by Dan Hinkel
Tanya Morgan’s Brooklynati is beautifully mundane.
For the full-length follow up to their respected but widely ignored debut, the three MCs who are Cincinnati-Brooklyn rap group Tanya Morgan — Donwill, Ilyas and rapper-producer Von Pea — offer another album of realist rap. As fake as Brooklynati is as a municipality, these MCs sound like they’ve lived there for a while. On 16 tracks, almost all of them politely pretty and infectious, the listener job-shadows three workmanlike MCs as they detail the joy, anger, trepidation and anticipation they find in their half-buried underground status. The album is great, front-to-back.
Brooklynati dropped three years after Moonlighting, an underexposed debut that drew the the endorsement of influential puffy-haired late-night television drummer Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson of The Roots. If you read 2dopeboyz.com and follow @phontigallo on Twitter, you know Tanya Morgan. If you’re a record executive, you probably are not familiar.
But Brooklynati is nothing if not welcoming. This is the kind of rap album that can be played on a Monday morning commute to work.
The music is jazzy and fluid, and the verses are pleasantly skillful. None of these guys is Lil’ Wayne, Andre 3000 or Talib Kweli, and new fans might need a spreadsheet to know who is talking at which time, but the music benefits from each MC’s subtle competence, an undervalued hip-hop commodity.
Standout songs include “Alleye Need,” a danceable ode to getting by, and “Plan B,” as in “ain’t no plan B” for these three rappers. “Don’t U Holla,” the album’s high point, shoots a menacing glare at shady concert promoters. Like much of Morgan’s work, Brooklynati bulges with humor and intelligence.
It doesn’t all work. “Bang and Boogie” is a little too friendly, and the chorus wanders into that space where fun turns stupid, turf owned by the Black Eyed Peas and rented sometimes by Jurassic 5 and Lyrics Born. And, by now, we don’t need any more hip-hop-as-woman metaphor songs such as “Without U.” If you’re a professional rapper, we’ll just assume you like hip hop.
But as a whole, Brooklynati is brilliant. For an album about work, it delivers a lot of pleasure.
Bill Frisell, Disfarmer (Nonesuch)
by Dan DeLuca
Country-leaning, genre-hopping jazz guitarist Bill Frisell’s Disfarmer project is an instrumental suite of songs inspired by the life of photographer Mike Disfarmer, a shadowy figure who specialized in portraits of the working-class citizens of Heber, Ark., in the 1940s and ’50s. The CD sleeve is filled with dignified, melancholy pictures taken by Disfarmer, who died alone in his studio — his body, according to Frisell’s notes, “covered with mice and surrounded with cans of Spam.” Disfarmer aims to shine a light on the shooter’s work — Frisell compares him to “misunderstood artists who never had the recognition they deserved during their own time: Vermeer, Van Gogh, Charles Ives and Henry Darger.” But it also works quite nicely as wonderfully rootsy and evocative music for listeners not clued in to its title subject.
Accompanied by the superb ensemble of violinist Jenny Scheinman, bass player Victor Krauss, and string whiz Greg Leisz, Frisell mixes a few period pieces — Arthur Crudup’s “That’s All Right, Mama,” Hank Williams’ “Lovesick Blues,” and “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still in Love With You)” — and an inventive three-part rewrite of the fiddle tune “Arkansas Traveler” with delicate originals that are by turns haunting and sprightly. And, like Disfarmer’s photos, they are not the slightest bit sentimental.
Modest Mouse, No One’s First, and You’re Next (Epic)
by Katherine Silkaitis
The eight songs on Modest Mouse’s first release in two years are not, unfortunately, groundbreaking new material. The EP No One’s First, and You’re Next is culled primarily from outtakes from the band’s last two full-length releases, 2007’s We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank and 2004’s Good News for People Who Love Bad News, with the addition of two new tracks. Yet, it’s still a surprisingly cohesive and well-structured album. It burrows deeper into the the maniacally mutated Americana genre the band created with the release of Good News. There are gritty country choruses, undulating prog-influenced guitar solos, New Orleans brass, and layers of reverb and distorted instrumentals. While Modest Mouse has lost the quirky song structure and lo-fi ethos that made their earlier albums unique and engaging, No One’s First does re-instill the fact that the group is the master of conflicting emotions, dishing out doses of melancholy, joy, inspiration and spontaneity in every song.
—MCT, Philadelphia Inquirer
The Rural Alberta Advantage, Hometowns (Saddle Creek)
by Steve Klinge
At their best, Toronto trio the Rural Alberta Advantage sound like an indie-rock dream date between Neutral Milk Hotel and the Arcade Fire. Vocalist-guitarist Nils Edenloff strums forcefully and sings passionately, his flat voice invested with desperation and fervor, and a few tracks burst into horn-enhanced climaxes. The brief songs, most under three minutes, race along to the dual percussion of Paul Banwatt and Amy Cole, and there’s rewarding friction between their stripped-down, homespun quality and the grand, distorted intensity, abetted by judicious use of Cole’s backing vocals, keyboards, horns or strings.
Edenloff relocated from Alberta to Toronto, and many of the songs on Hometowns, RAA’s debut, grow from nostalgia: for rural life, for relationships lost, for historical events. RAA self-released Hometowns last year, but it’s now seeing well-deserved wider distribution.
—MCT, Philadelphia Inquirer
Assjack, Assjack (Sidewalk/Curb)
by A.D. Amorosi
Outlaw country? You don’t know from outlaw till you’ve dealt with the demons inside the son of Hank Jr. and grandson of the rambling man.
For all of the country cool his lineage should evoke, Hank Williams III plays it odd and hot, taking on the depressed tension of his forebearers as well as their addictions, literary and literal.
While those obsessions have yielded elegant traditional country songs and honky-tonkers wistful in their execution, there’s a darker side to Hank III — the hard-core death-metal one he’s long put forth in concert as Assjack.
Finally committed to recording such a fantastic morass, Assjack’s debut goes beyond Williams’ hellbilly ruckus to find his sludgy frenzy furthered. It had to — Hank III wrote and performed this shebang alone. That gives focus to Assjack’s tunes of menace, abhorrence and heartache, as if he’s on a solitary mission to Hades.
The violent “Chokin’ Gesture” and “Cut Throat” are short and not-so-sweet songs filled with curt contempt and gut-shot screams never to be confused with C&W’s good ol’ boy hoots ’n’ hollers. “Cocaine the White Devil,” on the other hand, takes its good old time skulking around its hulking disgust. William S. Burroughs couldn’t have done it better. Sensational.
—MCT, Philadelphia Inquirer
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