“Ramblin’ Man” – Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan

Every now and then, for reasons I can neither understand nor articulate, a swampy, bluesy romp sounds like just the right thing to me. Normally I don’t connect to this stuff. In this case, however, I’ve no doubt that the crazy combination of Mark Lanegan’s deep gruffly voice (doesn’t he sound like Steve Earle doing a Johnny Cash imitation? sort of?) and Isobel Campbell‘s quintessential whisper-fairy lilt is too brilliantly odd to overlook. Around this vocal odd couple is built a ghost-town shuffle, complete with a deep twangy guitar, whip crack accents, and, at the perfect moment, a lonesome whistle. Lanegan some may remember as the voice of Screaming Trees, the grunge-pop growlers from Washington state, and sometime member of Queens of the Stone Age; Campbell, from Glasgow, spent six years or so as cellist and vocalist with Belle and Sebastian. Somehow or other they decided to collaborate on an album together and this Hank Williams cover is one of the results. “Ramblin’ Man,” originally available on an EP at the end of last year, will be on the CD Ballad of the Broken Seas, to be released later this month on V2 Records. The MP3 is available via Better Propaganda.

“Stay” – the Attorneys

If Queen had been a power pop garage band, they might’ve sounded like this. So it’s big and brash and just this side of over the top (Toto wasn’t all bad, were they?), but I am genetically unable to resist the kind of chorus this one breaks into, never mind the melodies that lead us there: one four and five chords up the wazoo, it’s just irresistible. The Attorneys, a trio from Brooklyn, appear to be gleeful pop ransackers, ready and willing to combine sounds from the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s (heck, maybe they sneaked the ’90s in there too) into one juicy slice of merry bombast, with slashing guitars and histrionic harmonies to spare, all the while careening along that fine line that separates pure pop from ripe cheese. The band has recently self-released its first CD, entitled Sparrow Gardens/Pencil Factory, a 19-song extravaganza divided into what are called two “chapters”; “Stay” leads off the “Pencil Factory” section.

“Sleepless” – Philip Fogarty

Okay so this sounds like Peter Gabriel a bit. Maybe a lot. But the more I listen, the more it doesn’t matter, for a couple of reasons. First of all, the song positively shines with an austere, semi-minimalist beauty—Fogarty wastes few notes and fewer sounds in creating an aural landscape suffused with tension and yearning. This comes across as not so much a standard song as a meditation around one central motif—the part where he sings “And I’m wide awake”—that happens to be perfectly placed and pitched enough to carry the entire enterprise. After I listened a few times the melody there started to give me the shivers. Listen too for the elegant, chime-like piano punctuations, which deepen the musical effect. The other reason why the Peter Gabriel echo doesn’t matter to me is because, well–how many people out there are busy sounding like Peter Gabriel? Pretty much nobody, as everyone seems to be busy trying to sound like the Gang of Four. But come to think of it, Peter Gabriel was putting out a lot of really good music there in the late ’70s that was edgy in its own way; he had a lot more to offer than just being your sledgehammer. Fogarty is an Irish musician with one previous CD to his name (1999’s Endangered Breed); “Sleepless” is a track off his new Short Stories EP, a digital-only release that came out in December and is available via his web site.




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