Sunday, November 04, 2007

Sinister Barrier

Too much music, too little time.
I said it before and I will probably say it again.
And again.
This album has been sitting in my “must listen” pile for months now and for one reason or another, never got taken out of the jewel case.
My bad.
So here I am kicking myself (well, figuratively) because Sinister Barrier is definitely one of the best albums of 2006. Alas, I only got to hear it in 2007.
In any case, let me attempt to put the record straight.
Ever hear music that delicately balanced the past and the future? Y’know, a song that sounded so futuristic but you could easily pick out the inspirations at the same time?
Yes, welcome to the Green and Yellow TV, a trio of smart musicians viz. Michael Regilio, Todd O’Keefe and Justin Rocherolle, that possesses the uncanny knack of referencing the best influences and yet remaining edgy and fresh throughout.
Enough hyperbole! Here is the album…
In many ways, The Green and Yellow TV remind me of Spoon and Nada Surf – that similar indescribable quality, mercurial & magical like listening to the early Beatles or Dylan circa 1966. Well, something like that.
I mean, the moment the Beach Boys vocal of “The Wolves Are Out Tonight” rises out of the phased-out rhythm guitar, I’m sold. Then it turns into a detuned psychedelic Nirvana workout… huh?
So, check those preconceptions at the door – there are no rules whatsoever – anything goes. Isn’t that what great pop music is all about?
Underpinned by lovely harmonics and unerring musicianship, Sinister Barrier is a joyride over seldom traveled pop highways that is always intriguing. A+

Life is hard and then you die, so goes the old saying.
The late great Ronnie Lane had an intimate knowledge of the vague truth behind this saying. Yet, it appears that while life indeed was hard for him, he lived it to the fullest, the best that he knew how, even in the face of a crippling disease.
One could say that Lane was a touch naïve, that he never let the darker side of life get to him but cantered through his life in blissful ignorance of sinister elements. Perhaps that is why, despite all his prodigious talent and being part of two successful bands viz. the Small Faces and the Faces, Lane lived on the edge of poverty and never enjoyed the financial rewards of his efforts.
All this is captured vividly in this documentary which highlights an aspect of Lane, not too well known amongst rock music enthusiasts, that is, Lane’s ‘escape’ from the glamour of 70s rock into the pastoral, rootsy existence that he carved out for himself as a solo artists, with his band, Slim Chance.
The first part of the DVD documents Lane’s ‘popular’ phase when as part of the Small Faces and the Faces, he enjoyed fame and success, though unfortunately little economic benefits.
This would be due to dodgy contracts in the former case and disenchantment with the rock scene in the latter case.
Which would lead Lane into the ‘new’ acoustic, rootsy direction and the Passing Show – an ambitious grass-roots tour of the smaller towns and villages of the UK, in which Lane and band, accompanied by a troupe of dancers, clowns, jugglers and fire-eaters, played in a big top and traveled in a fleet of antiquated trucks – which was a commercial train wreck.
Tragically, around this time, Lane would be diagnosed with multiple sclerosis which he carried with him until his demise in 1997.
The Passing Show tells Lane’s story through interviews with Lane and good friends like Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend, Ian McLagen, Kenney Jones and many others and of course, live performances.
It’s a lovely documentary that will touch your heart and open your eyes and hopefully, lead people to discover Lane’s wonderful music post-Faces, the back-to-basics style that has influenced many musicians to this day.
But through it all, the highs and lows and incredible hardships, you get the sense that Lane accepted the life that was dealt to him and with zest and vitality. And in the words of that classic Faces song – “Ooh La La”… A+

Gilby Clarke?
Guns ‘n’ Roses. Supernov- I mean, Rock Star Supernova.
Hmm, should have quit while I was ahead!
Okay, so anyone vaguely familiar with popular culture would have some inkling of who Clarke is. So, a new solo compilation album is pretty timely, don’t you think? Think of it as an opportunity to cash in on the new-found fame (or notoriety).
And knowing Clarke’s current reputation as part and parcel of the corporate rock monster, it’s no surprising that the first three selections viz. “Cure Me … Kill Me,” “Tijuana Jail” and “Black” (remixed to feature Rock Star runner-up Dilana – did I spell that right?) highlight all the standard hard rock clichés, that Rock Star fans would clamor for.
Heavy riffs ripped out of a Metallica song, unimaginative functional tunes and the ultimate killing stroke – the slow rock ballad with the sludgy chorus. All predictable, right?
Not exactly, because under the skull-emblazoned scarf and usual decadent styling, a country boy’s heart beats to the rhythm of classic 70s rock.
Kinda like Clarke’s obvious inspiration, Keith Richards.
Thus, tracks like “Skin n’ Bones,” “It’s Good Enough For Rock n’ Roll,” “Bourbon Street Blues,” “Can’t Get That Stuff” and “Dropping Out” are reminiscent of the Stones’ majestic Exile on Main Street, all country-folk bluesy, with a hint of Mott the Hoople, along the way.
Not only that but on “Kilroy Was Here” and “Judgement Day,” Clarke comes across as (White Album) Beatlesque as any pop underground luminary you could care to name.
Lay aside your prejudices, I say, this “greatest hits” album contains a few of the better Stones-inspired stuff you’re gonna hear in the 2000s and if it takes a dodgy reality show to get this deserving music a fair hearing, then I say, more power to Gilby! B+
Let’s Get Out of the Country
To be honest, I’ve always found Camera Obscura too much twee and not enough rock, which I suppose is absurd, cos twee is what Camera Obscura is all about. And, when Let’s Get Out of the Country lands into too many “best of” lists of 2006, it does make you wonder.
So, it was rather convenient when Singaporean indie label picked up the distribution rights for the album in my neck of the woods and voila! Better late than never, eh?
With Belle and Sebastian effortlessly worming its way into my albums of the year, I guess, it was about time to give Camera Obscura a chance as well.
What can I say?
Camera Obscura never rocks (not even once) bit does come close to rollicking, once or twice. But that’s forgivable, when this Scottish band manages to create a great melancholy country ballad like “Dory Previn” or a shimmering waltzing ditty like “The False Contender” or a fragile yearning like the title track and so on.
And what about Tracyanne Campbell’s heart-rending larynx on tracks likes the lively “If Looks Could Kill,” the revealing “Lloyd, I’m Ready To Be Heartbroken” and the Spectoresquely Irish “Come Back Margaret.”
This Singapore edition features two bonus tracks – the Everly Brothers’ tribute “Phil and Don” (remember Wings’ “Let ‘Em In”) and the jazzy “Roman Holiday” - try not to think of Audrey Hepburn! Not essential perhaps but something Camera Obscura completists may want to investigate.
All right, so maybe Let’s Get Out of the Country won’t get into my albums of 2006 but it warrants a honourable mention any way. A-