Monday, February 10, 2014

Music Library: Allen Toussaint, Townes Van Zandt, Toy Love, Tracy Jordan, Trailer Bride, Trans Am, Treepeople, Trees, Trembles, Tribe Called Quest, Trip Shakespeare, Trouble Down South

Allen Toussaint - Life, Love and Faith (1972). Toussaint is a New Orleans-based force of nature, well known for his production and performance chops. This album is a pretty great slice of unmistakably New Orleans-style 1970s funk, anchored by the excellent "On Your Way Down."

Townes Van Zandt - Our Mother The Mountain (1969), Townes Van Zandt (1969), Delta Momma Blues (1971), High, Low and In Between (1972), The Late Great Townes Van Zandt (1972), Live At The Old Quarter, Houston TX (1973), Flyin' Shoes (1978), Rear View Mirror (1979), Road Songs (1993), No Deeper Blue (1994), Anthology: 1968-1979. He was a depressed rich kid from Texas who drank himself to death in his early 50s, and he was one of the greatest American songwriters who have ever lived. Some poetry, like a good joke, is meant to crack like a whip at the end, and Townes Van Zandt wrote songs that cracked more than most jokes or poems. His first album, For The Sake Of The Song, is weighed down by shitty production. Skip it. Pretty much every song appears in better form on a later album. The next two, Our Mother The Mountain and Townes Van Zandt, strip things back, and stripped-back almost always works best for a Texan. "Tecumseh Valley," about the short and sad life of a mountain girl, may be the best song on these two in the long run, but the latter's "Waiting Around To Die," reportedly one of Van Zandt's first written songs, is utterly devastating.

Delta Momma Blues is also wonderful, but it pales next to 1972's High, Low And In Between and The Late, Great Townes Van Zandt, both of which are so ridiculously full of great songs, it's a wonder that Van Zandt's head didn't explode from all the creativity. Each features one of his two best songs: "To Live Is To Fly" from HLAIB and the ubiquitous and yet still-powerful "Pancho and Lefty" from TLGTVZ.

Live At The Old Quarter is pretty much everything you could ask from a live album: a stage patter full of warm jokes, performances as taut as if the singer's life depended on them, good sound, and no pander. Van Zandt wasn't yet 30 when it was recorded in 1973. And there's nowhere to go from there but down. Flyin' Shoes is overproduced, but the songs still crackle with life even if they don't have as much whipcrack as his 1972 albums. Rear View Mirror captures some lovely live performances from the late 1970s. Road Songs collects live performances of other people's songs, including the devastating "Dead Flowers" that later cropped up on The Big Lebowski soundtrack. No Deeper Blue was the last studio album released in Van Zandt's life, and it's overwhelmingly sad. The production is way too intrusive, his voice is shot, and the songs sound like the work of a man ready to die. The Anthology was an early purchase that's unnecessary if you have the run of albums from 1969-73. Highly recommended: the documentary Be Here To Love Me.

Toy Love - Cuts (compilation, recorded 1972-80). Before they were influencing the Elephant Six bands as the Tall Dwarfs, Chris Knox and Alex Bathgate were in a delightful poppy punk band called Toy Love. This album collects all of their tracks.

Tracy Jordan - Werewolf Bar Mitzvah (2007). Yeah, it's a 30 Rock joke, and I've attributed it to a fictional character.

Trailer Bride - Trailer Bride (1997), High Seas (2001), Hope Is A Thing With Feathers (2003). These are the first, fourth, and fifth albums by Trailer Bride, a Southern gothic alt-country band led by Melissa Swingle. They are all pretty great, but the first one has a special place in my heart, as I saw one of TB's first shows at the Cave in Chapel Hill (they were a three-piece at the time) and this appeared not long thereafter. Unfortunately, I can't find any clips from that album, but this is a pretty cranking song from High Seas.

Trans Am - Futureworld (1999). These guys loved Kraftwerk and irony and punk rock (paging James Murphy) and if you do, too, you will really like this album.

Treepeople - Something Vicious For Tomorrow/Time Whore (1990-1992) and Just Kidding (1993). This is the Idaho guitar-noise-punk band that Doug Martsch was in before he formed Built To Spill. They're pretty good but not great, and it's interesting to hear how Martsch was tied into to the Pacific Northwest's music scene of the late 80s/early 90s. I'm talking about grunge, y'all.

Trees - Light's Bane (2008). Heavy, slow, sludgy doom metal from Portland. I think I read somewhere that these guys have an eco-friendly message buried somewhere in the vocals, but damned if I can understand them.

The Trembles - Trembles EP (1995), Demos and Live Stuff (1995). Southern jangle-pop band outta Tuscaloosa led by the excellent songwriter Ray Buttram that I played bass for in the 90s.

A Tribe Called Quest - The Low End Theory (1991). Old-school hip-hop from when jazz fusion was the name of the game.

Trip Shakespeare - Lulu (1991) and Volt (1992). Literate power pop from the Midwest with smart lyrics at odds with their surface sheen, not unlike a lesser Game Theory, although there's points where this band sometimes succumbs to the easy charms of their own feigned vacuity. The Volt EP is all covers.

Trouble Down South - Can You Hear The Dogs Barking? EP (2001), Everybody Digs Trouble Down South (2003), and Live At The Hole In The Wall (2003). One of the most fun bands I've ever been in, TDS was an Austin-based cowpunk band named for a Mekons song (and not, as it may seem, an unfortunate itch in a delicate place). All of these can be found at the bandcamp site I created for the band.


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