Thursday, October 12, 2006
VARIOUS ARTISTS | Rogue’s Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Seas Songs & Chanteys | Anti
People love pirates. Piratemania is so widespread, in fact, that a backlash seems inevitable. But even if the plank-walkers are about to jump the shark, Rogue’s Gallery is good enough to survive on its own merits. Although the 43-track double CD was conceived by Johnny Depp and Gore Verbinski, who starred in and directed both Pirates of the Caribbean movies, respectively, it doesn’t seem like a base attempt to coax a bit more booty into the franchise’s swollen coffers.
Never mind that Sting and Bono are on it; most of the featured performers are artists that the average Pirates of the Caribbean fan has never heard of and probably wouldn’t like anyway. Moreover, it’s highly unlikely that anyone besides a few crusty musicologists will recognize the source material, most of which predates recording technology.
Disc one begins with the inimitable Baby Gramps, whose lascivious croak sounds like a bullfrog being electrocuted or some drunk kid singing into a fan; his rendition of the chantey “Cape Cod Girls” is loose, lovely, and odd, sweetened by the luminous leads of guitarist Bill Frisell and the earnest harmonies of Akron/Family. Sting’s version of the Napoleonic-era “Blood Red Roses” may qualify as his most restrained vocal performance and, to my mind, anyway, his best yet.
The second disc is equally strong. From David Thomas’ deranged and queasy “What Do We Do with a Drunken Sailor” to Jolie Holland’s lazy and luxuriant “The Grey Funnel Line,” from Loudon Wainwright III’s unspeakably nasty “Good Ship Venus” to Jarvis Cocker and Richard Hawley’s slowcore stunner “A Drop of Nelson’s Blood,” the tracks careen from the bawdy to the bathetic and back again. Producer Hal Willner isn’t playing the usual compiler’s game, reviving a moribund genre by siphoning off the strangeness. Like the sea that they celebrate, these songs are too deep to plumb. —René Spencer Salle
BOZ SCAGGS | Hits! | Columbia/Legacy
The true sound of the Bay Area circa mid ‘70s, this pleasant white R&B cat scored big but once with 1976’s Silk Degrees after seven plus years of struggling as a solo act. The package put forth by Columbia acknowledges this fact in a major way, with one third of the cuts coming from that watershed disc and even at that, shortchanges that masterpiece by at least one genuine hit, the criminally-omitted “Georgia.”
Which isn’t all that this hits disc misses. Scaggs’ great moment of his live set, the hippie standard “Baby’s Calling Me Home,” isn’t here, nor is his first FM track as a solo, “Why, Why.” What’s included is a handful of glossy Michael McDonald-esque ballads drenched in excessive ‘80s digital goop. —Johnny Angel
THE HOLD STEADY | Boys and Girls in America | Vagrant
With 2005’s spirituality-soused sophomore album, Separation Sunday, sextet the Hold Steady ended on a resurrection. But three days in the depths can’t subvert all the malaise with the scene, resulting in these story-songs of diminishing returns on Boys and Girls in America.
This album extends Craig Finn’s Bruce Springsteen-meets-Jack Kerouac babbling into anthemic, piano-anchored choruses but with as much lyrical malady as melody. The band lustily scores getting fucked up and shot down, but sticking to one’s guns regardless. It’s Thin Lizzy and AC/DC-cum-GBV plus the Replacements’ blue-collar bar chords for drinking and drunk dialing, and chasing solace among emotional tracers. There’s an endearingly amateurish slurred-from-the-backseat, call-and-response quality to many a chemical romance, but while some dance to remember, many more dance to forget. And the Hold Steady further romanticizes craggy camaraderie and my life-is-on-the-line lifelines. —Tony Ware