The varied and experimental musical career of Carla Bozulich contains many stylistic zigs and zags: from post-punk (with Neon Vein) and industrial-tinged art-rock (with Ethyl Meatplow) to atmospheric alt-country (with Geraldine Fibbers) and experimental improvisations. 2006’s Evangelista, Bozulich’s third solo release, blends her country leanings with her more experimental, ambient tendencies, resulting in an album of moody folk pieces that recall acts like the Cowboy Junkies and Hem. Yet Bozulich remains true to form: Evangelista is never laid-back or predictable. Instead, it treads an appealing line between loveliness and danger.
“This album began two years ago with a guitar – then an amp. Then I got a call from Hamish Stewart to come and sing a couple of my songs with him and some local funk soul brothers in a ten piece festival band. Then I became infatuated with the sound of the Hammond Organ and finally decided, for the first time, to add a string Bass. It has been all about the sound, what we might play was never really decided. While this musical journey was going on, Britain was sinking deeper into recession. From radio and television studios our political and fiscal masters were insisting we should continue to listen to them, to take seriously their initiatives and their projections while out in the streets our personal experience was, and remains, in gritty contradiction to their rhetoric. I believe we are on our own. I believe all we really have is ourselves and what we make, and, the most precious of what we make lies in our connection to each other. They have not found a way of taxing what flows between us and our loved ones.” – Chris Wood March 2013.
During their all too short lifespan, Big Star were a brilliant band who could not catch a break (their influence is still wildly out of proportion with the size of their audience), and for years this tribute album didn’t seem destined for a brighter fate than the group who inspired it. Compiled by an independent label called Ignition Records with the participation of original Big Star drummer Jody Stephens, Big Star Small World was scheduled for release in the spring of 1998, but Ignition went under before the album ever made it way into stores, and the project sat in limbo until Koch Records obtained the rights to the tapes in 2006. As a result, Big Star Small World features tracks from three bands who no longer exist (the Afghan Whigs, Whiskeytown, and Idle Wilds), while two others have managed to split up and reunite during the eight-year waiting period (the Posies and the Gin Blossoms). One can be excused for wishing that after such a long gestation Big Star Small World would be some sort of landmark in the land of the tribute album, but that isn’t quite the case. While pretty much everyone onboard sounds pleased as punch to be paying homage to Alex Chilton and his partners in power pop, too many of the performances on Big Star Small World sound like slavish covers of the original recordings (especially Juliana Hatfield’s “Don’t Lie to Me,” the Gin Blossoms’ “Back of a Car,” and “The Ballad of El Goodo” from Matthew Sweet). The best tracks tend to be the ones that put a new spin on the songs, such as the Afghan Whigs’ ominous stroll through “Nighttime,” Teenage Fanclub’s sprightly and Byrds-ian take on “Jesus Christ,” and a cover of “What’s Goin’ Ahn” from the Posies that suggests they remembered well the lessons on Frosting on the Beater. And while neither Kelly Willis nor Wilco add anything especially unusual on their contributions, they get over on the strength of their delivery, with Willis’ gorgeous country pipes buoying “When My Baby’s Beside Me,” while Jeff Tweedy is all glorious wonder and confusion as he sings “Thirteen.” Big Star Small World’s anti-climax comes with what was supposed to be its most important moment — Big Star cut a new song for this, their first studio material since their 1993 live reunion, but “Hot Thing” is an uninspired R&B pastiche that has little in common with the pop genius of the group’s salad days. There’s just enough good stuff on Big Star Small World to justify its belated release, but not enough to make it essential to anyone besides obsessive fans of either Big Star or the artists included.
A new Court Yard Hounds album is on the way. The post-Dixie Chicks group featuring sisters Emily Robison and Martie Maguire release “Amelita,” their sophomore album, on July 16 via Columbia Records.For “Amelita,” the sisters again turned to producer Jim Scott, who was at the helm of their breakout self-titled debut.Much like their debut, Robison takes lead vocals on most of the album’s 11 tracks, while Maguire sings lead on “Guy Like You,” which she co-wrote with Martin Strayer, the album’s guitarist (and Robison’s boyfriend).
This acoustic one-off from Back Porch labelmates Charlie Sexton and Shannon McNally was conceived after a short joint tour where they shared the stage for part of the set. Their label’s name is an ideal description of this casual meeting of the minds–it seems like microphones were set up in a country yard on a gray Sunday morning as the two musicians discarded their stage personas and modest star trappings to revel in the love of making music. The songs are a mix of originals from each artist, along with a few similarly themed covers from others such as Townes Van Zandt (“No Place to Fall”) and Jesse Winchester (“Biloxi” works as a perfect post-Katrina lament from ex-New Orleans resident McNally). Echoes of Gram Parsons’s classic work with Emmylou Harris abound, but the Southside Sessions sound is more somber, sorrowful, and folksy, with touches of gospel-styled passion. The peaceful yet emotionally charged vibe is aided by solemn piano and barely-there percussion to help flesh out these naked performances. Sexton’s flinty voice meshes surprisingly well with McNally’s more classic husky country twang to produce a short but bittersweet half-hour of songs that linger long after the last note fades.