Sunday, September 20, 2009

Music Library: GZA, Half Japanese, Handsome Boy Modeling School, Handsome Family, Hang Ups, Hank Snow, Hank Thompson, Hank Williams

GZA - Liquid Swords (1995).  One of the best hip-hop albums in my meager collection, the GZA and the RZA (who produces) knock out hypnotic beats and rhymes about samurai culture, chess, and street crime.   Most, if not all, of the rest of the Wu-Tang Clan drop in to add lines to different songs.  The only stinker is "B.I.B.L.E. (Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth)," which wasn't produced by the RZA and fails to capture the menace and cleverness of the rest of the album.

Half Japanese - Half Gentlemen/Not Beasts (partial, 1980), "Thing With A Hook," Charmed Life (1988), "This Could Be The Night," "I Heard Her Call My Name," "T For Texas (Blue Yodel No. 1)."  Jad and David Fair's noisy punk experiment in primitivism, Half Japanese plays songs with a willful (given the talent pool in their sidemen) lack of skill but generally built around a coherent, sometimes touching, idea.  Not for everyone.  Not even for me, sometimes.

Handsome Boy Modeling School - "Has The World Gone Mad?"  From their apparently critically unloved sophomore album White People.  Sounds like I'd have to hear the first album and the rest of the second to hear this in appropriate context.  From here, it sounds like so-so hip-hop.

The Handsome Family - "Arlene" and Singing Bones (2003).  A band I admire more than love, the Handsome Family consists of Brett Sparks, who sings and plays guitar, and his wife Rennie, who plays bass and banjo and writes all of the songs.  "Arlene" is a barn-burner of a murder ballad, but Singing Bones seems more like a bunch of good ideas than good songs.  I haven't pursued any more albums mainly because of my tepid response to Singing Bones, which was one of their more highly rated albums when it came out.

The Hang Ups - Coming Through EP (1993), He's After Me (1993), So We Go (1996), and Second Story (1999).  None of these are full albums, but tracks from a compilation that I got a number of years ago.  The Hang Ups are a Minneapolis power-pop band that are less about the jangle and more about the broad hooks (less Big Star than Badfinger is what I'm trying to say).  And they're good at the power pop, if a bit forgettable when the music ends.

Hank Snow - "I've Been Everywhere."  Country music great who performed this song at an auctioneer's pace.  Wikipedia says he supported George Wallace's Presidential bid in the early 70s, so it's helpful to remember that they can't all be good guys.

Hank Thompson - "Jersey Bounce," "Wildwood Flower," and "Wild Side of Life/It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels" (with Kitty Wells).  The greatest Western Swing artist who wasn't Bob Wills, Thompson's music has much of the same marriage of jazz and country, but it's also more song-oriented.  Goes without saying that these tracks are utterly delightful.

Hank Williams - Original Singles Collection... Plus (recorded 1942 - 1952, released 1992).  I'm not going to tell you anything about Hank Williams that you don't already know.  I hope.  It's this simple: if you like songs, you should have some Hank Williams in your collection.  This isn't complete, ignoring the Luke The Drifter songs (except for two) and the duets with his wife Audrey (except one), but the songs collected herein are uniformly excellent, some of the best ever written.


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