Social Distancing Spins – Days 62-65

By Joel Francis

Robert Fripp and Brian Eno – Evening Star (1975)
Brian Eno and Kevin Shields – The Weight of History (2018) The second album from King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp and former Roxy Music effects wizard Brian Eno continues down the same experimental path established on their first album. Layers of audio are bounced between two tape decks, building up sheets of sound that are then manipulated and augmented with guitar solos and other effects. If this sounds too technical fear not: Evening Star is a supremely pastoral album, especially on the first side. As with Eno’s other ambient projects the point of this music is to almost disappear in the background and enhance the mood and atmosphere of a space. The first side of Evening Star succeeds on this level, projecting a layer of calm into my house each time it is played. The second side, the 28-minute track “An Index of Metals” is more textured, incorporating dense levels of guitar distortion. While distorted manipulations keep the piece from fading into aural wallpaper the result is still soothing.

More than 40 years after collaborating with Fripp, Eno partnered with another guitarist know for dense layers of distortion. The guitar player in My Bloody Valentine, Kevin Shields was the primary auteur behind the shoegaze masterpiece Loveless. The music Shields and Eno have crafted together seems like it builds on the foundation Eno established with Fripp. Like “An Index of Metals,” their work forces some attention to appreciate its wonder. Shields and Eno have only collaborated on two songs so far, but the 12-inch single containing these tracks make me want a more.

Murder by Death – The Other Shore (2018) The eighth album by the Bloomington, Ind. Goth-country rockers is a concept album that according to press materials is “a space-western about a ravaged Earth, its fleeing populace and a relationship in jeopardy.” Well that clears things up. Fortunately the music is so engaging that it masks any plot problems. Their brand of roots rock is bolstered by a dedicated cellist, which brings a sweeping Southern Gothic feel to the music. The music on The Other Shore is certainly more nuanced than the petal-to-the-metal live show I saw from them several years ago at Middle of the Map festival. That said, all the songs on The Other Shore feel like they would translate well to the stage. Murder by Death have built a loyal following over the past two decades. The Other Shore is accessible enough to please the existing fans and win them even more.

Roy Lee Johnson and the Villagers – Self-titled (1973) If the name Roy Lee Johnson rings any bells, it might from the song “Mr. Moonlight,” which he wrote and was covered by the Fab Four on the album Beatles for Sale. Johnson’s lone outing with the Villagers bears no resemblance to that song whatsoever. Opening number “Patch It Up” sounds like James Brown and the J.B.s. The next number, “I’ll be Your Doctor Man” continues in this very funky vein, with the distinct accompaniment of the Memphis Horns. Recorded at Muscle Shoals, Roy Lee Johnson and the Villagers drips with Southern soul and funk in every track. Unfortunately for Johnson, two events coincided to keep him from becoming a star. First, Stax was in shaky financial state when this album came out. Poor distribution killed any chance of this success. Fans couldn’t find the album in stores to buy it and send it up the charts. Secondly, the Villagers young bass player Michael James died suddenly, leading to the end of the Villagers. James’ playing plays a prominent role in the album’s success, adding to the melody line while simultaneously holding down the groove. The side two instrumental “Razorback Circus” is a prime example of what James brought to the material. Johnson didn’t release another album until the mid-‘80s. His most recent album is 1998’s “When a Guitar Plays the Blues.”

The Creation – Action Painting (compilation) If you know any of the Creation’s songs, it is probably “Making Time,” used in the brilliant film Rushmore. It’s the first track in this collection, meaning there are 22 other 1960s British garage rock classics to discover here. Fans of early Who, Small Faces and the Kinks will find a lot to love. As always, the Numero Group has done an excellent job of presenting the music with the best mastering possible and putting it in context as well. All the band’s singles are here as well as a handful of pre-Creation singles by Creation Mark Four and songs that only popped up on later compilations. The Creation like to pose as ruffians on songs like the tough “Biff, Bang, Pow” and the cocksure “Can I Join Your Band,” but their true colors are revealed on several goofy numbers. “The Girls Are Naked” sounds like the nutty younger cousin of the Who’s “Pictures of Lily.” Covers of “Cool Jerk” and “Bonie Maronie” conjure images of awkward dance steps in a school gymnasium. The Creation never seem to take themselves too seriously – they have a song about “Ostrich Man” – but their Mod sensibilities make this an essential addition to any 1960s Anglophile’s collection.

Jane’s Addiction – Nothing’s Shocking (1988) Most of the songs on the major label debut by the Los Angeles-born alternative party band still sound fresh today. I hadn’t listened to this album in a long while before this spin, but Eric Avery’s bassline on “Up the Beach” that opens the record still got the adrenaline going. Nothing’s Shocking was a staple in my college dorm room, but I think nostalgia isn’t the only force powering the album today. Dave Navarro’s guitars and Stephen Perkins drums kick like a blast of dynamite as singer Perry Farrell counts in the band on “Ocean Size.” “Mountain Side” still hits like an avalanche, but it’s not just the heavy songs that land. “Ted, Just Admit It…” is a longer, more experimental piece. “Standing in the Shower … Thinking” is a piece of faux funk that concludes the first side. “Summertime Rolls” is another atmospheric experimental piece carried by Ferrell’s voice. The horns on “Idiots Rule” and the radio staple singalong “Jane Says” are the only dated moments on the album. The brass on “Idiots Rule” sounds like shades of “Sledgehammer” and “Jane Says” suffers from overexposure. Jane’s Addiction have broken up and regrouped several times in the 32 years since Nothing’s Shocking came out, but none of those projects have come close to matching their original output.

Lucinda Williams – Good Souls Better Angels (2020) The 14th studio album from Southern singer/songwriter Lucinda Williams couldn’t arrive at a better time. At a time when COVID-19 shutdowns have people feeling frustrated, sad, angry and hopeful (sometimes experiencing each emotion within minutes of each other), Williams channels these states of mind through her lyrics and amplifier.

On “Big Black Train,” Williams confronts her bouts with depression and determination not to get onboard again. “Man Without a Soul” is a hot pellet of rage directed at the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The album ends with “Good Souls,” a hopeful prayer to “Keep me with all of those/who help me stay strong/and guide me along.”

Williams’ band expertly augments her emotions throughout the album, often working in a swampy blues or Rolling Stones rock form. After an hour of searing, electrified full-band arrangements, the vinyl version of Good Souls Better Angels includes five acoustic demo bonus tracks. They are the perfect palate cleanser. Having shared this emotional catharsis, we are renewed to defeat the next challenge.

Review: Jane’s Addiction

(Above: A view from the front row as Jane’s Addiction rock the Uptown Theater in Kansas City, Mo., on March 16, 2012.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

As the epic “Ted, Just Admit It …” gradually unraveled, the vintage ’50s video footage grew more disturbing. As two lingerie-clad dancers worked their corner of the stage, films of old stripteases graduated to spanking, bondage and S&M, reinforcing the chorus of “sex is violent.”

After “Ted” ended, Jane’s Addiction frontman Perry Farrell urged the audience to do the Twist, singing a few bars of the famous song and demonstrating the dance. Those two moments captured the essence of the late-’80s alt-rock quartet: sexy, intense, sleazy and silly. And loud.Farrell and his fellow founding band members — shirtless guitar god Dave Navarro and drummer Stephen Perkins — and longtime bass stand-in Chris Chaney rocked a comfortably crowded Uptown Theater for 90 minutes on Friday.

The 15-song setlist leaned heavily and appropriately on the two classic albums Jane’s released during its original incarnation, 1988’s “Nothing’s Shocking” and 1990’s “Ritual de lo Habitual.” The band has reformed several times since originally calling it quits in 1991 after the first incarnation of Farrell’s Lollapalooza tour. The four songs from last year’s “The Great Escape Artist” acquitted themselves well alongside the longtime favorites. “Just Because,” the lone song performed from 2003’s “Strays,” was easily the weakest performance of the night.

Although the band occupied a smaller stage than its appearance at Livestrong Sporting Park last summer, it still piled on the theatrics and visuals. Three screens showed recycled and found video footage. Two women in skimpy attire danced on a small stage atop one of the screens at stage left and took sultry strolls through the musicians. During “Twisted Tales,” a man in all white hanged and destroyed baby dolls before ultimately hanging himself. A large sculpture of two naked women loomed over everything above the drum kit at center stage.

Despite everything happening onstage, the music easily overpowered everything else. For “Classic Girl” and “Jane Says,” the band set up in an intimate corner at stage right. During “Jane Says,” Navarro strummed his acoustic guitar from the edge of the stage, legs dangling. For “Chip Away,” everyone except Farrell pounded huge drums. Both “Stop!” and “Been Caught Stealing” featured a little sonic experimentation in the middle sections.

Farrell didn’t need to do much to get the crowd involved. The teased intro to “Jane Says” fooled no one, and as expected the number quickly turned into the biggest sing-along of the night. The fans were also impressive during the a cappella bridge in “Stop!” while “Mountain Song” provided the earliest opportunity for everyone to throw their lungs toward the stage.

Both “Ted” and “Three Days” spanned more than 10 minutes. While the former framed the mood of the night, the later captured the band at peak form. Perkins was at the center of the performance. As a psychedelic light show encircled his kit, Perkins’ drumming held the song together. Later in the number, Navarro delivered one of his best and flashiest solos of the night. Although Chaney didn’t play on the original recording, his thick bassline propelled the song.

More than two decades removed from their original heyday, there may not be anything shocking in Jane’s world anymore, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t still a lot of fun.

Setlist: Underground, Mountain Song, Just Because, Been Caught Stealing, Ain’t No Right, Ted, Just Admit It…, Twisted Tales, Classic Girl, Jane Says, Chip Away, End to the Lies, Three Days, Stop! Encore: Words Right Out of My Mouth, Whores.

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