Stories Under Nails
Fugawee Bird FBR-02415
Have to confess that of the many recordings that come this way, in the grand scheme of things only a handful find their way to these pages. Like most anybody, too often it is by accident or tip or something crazy that gets someone to listen to something in the first place, myself included. The latest edition of No Depression magazine contains a remembrance of Southern author Larry Brown who died unexpectedly late last Fall. A big music fan to begin with, Brown, as recalled by author of the piece Silas House, was a big believer of a young singer/songwriter from Minnesota whose scrappy songs fell right in line with Brown’s own gritty writing style and were readymade for cranking up during his pickup truck jaunts through the countryside of his Mississippi home. Oh, did I mention Brown always liked to have a cooler of cold ones on hand when he pulled off the road to soak in his favored sounds. Had it not been for that piece, Stories Under Nails from Minnesota-based singer/songwriter Ben Weaver may have fallen by the wayside for this scribe. While there were enough cursory, song here and song there, listens to know this guy was better, or should I say different, than most, a benchmark jolt was needed to truly give the recording its due. Sadly, it was Brown’s unfortunate passing that provided that impetus to dig a bit deeper. At the same time, so enamored was Brown of Weaver’s work that here’s thinking he’d be casting an approving eye knowing that Mr. House’s piece was just the kick needed to win yet another convert to the music and songs of Ben Weaver. Filled with steel, harp, banjo, piano and assorted other instruments and gadgets all brought together into totally unfettered arrangements, Stories Under Nails is plenty rough around the edges stuff. Bits of noise, an almost conversational delivery by Weaver like your sitting around a campfire suckin’ a few down as he tells his tales is the predominant scent of this debut. And that is exactly what Weaver is, a real good storyteller. So good that you get out to track number nine on Stories Under Nails, a track titled “Handed Down” about a father’s passing, and boy if it isn’t channeling the late Townes Van Zandt in a creepy, good kind of way. Alone with that song, I could here all the qualities that made Townes the high priest tunesmith that he was, the poetic stringing together of words, the metaphorical imagery, and that thought-provoking inner core of a song that separates the good ones from the run of the mill types. Even more striking was the loneliness of the voice and guitar to go with the unrefined musical backdrop creating personal tales that reek of a Gothic sort of backwoods poet. Only in his mid-twenties, Weaver’s still got a lot of living to do. Stories Under Nails presents a singer and songwriter beyond his years. Highly recommended. (For information on Ben Weaver and Stories Under Nails, check his web site at www.benweaver.net)
In The World Of Him
Touch & Go TG269
Is All Over…The Map
Thrill Jockey THRILL-142
We move to recent releases from a couple of Chicago’s most venerable indie labels in Touch And Go Records and Thrill Jockey Records.
First up is the release In The World Of Him which marks the solo debut on Touch And Go Records for Sally Timms of Mekons fame. The recording is an interesting one, to say the least, that pairs Timms with the quirky talents of Upstate New York singer, songwriter and sonic odd-ball Johnny Dowd who produced and recorded the album at his Ithaca studio over the course of several sessions during 2003. For those looking for a Timms on the order of her work with the Mekons or country-flavored offerings for Bloodshot Records under the pseudonym “Cowboy Sally”, you’re not going to find it on In The World Of Him. Rather, place this one squarely in the Dowd camp whose own artsy solo offerings oft-times blow off melody for texture. Whereas the soft, sometimes seductive and typically graceful voice of Timms is there in all its tenderness, the backdrop, which moves from electronica to industrial folk noise, brings a woodshedding sort of ambience to the proceedings that makes for new waters for Timms. As the story goes, Timms accumulated the material comprising In The World Of Him over several years with the common thread being songs written by men and sung from their perspective. The songs themselves come from the likes of Mark Eitzel, Ryan Adams, Kevin Coyne, The Mekons, Jon Langford, Sean Garrison, and Dowd and are an interesting collection. (Only Timms’ own “Little Tommy Tucker”, about a fully grown nursery rhyme character, breaks from the theme.) Both “Bomb” and “Corporate Chalkie” each from the Mekons catalogue, will no doubt ring familiar to fans out there. The latter is ripe for the times with its anti war message. Other high points include Adams’ “Fools We Are As Men” which finds Timms plumbing the depths of emotion, Dowd’s “139 Hernalser Gurtel” which gets an after-hours treatment form fit to Timms’ hushed tones, and Coyne’s ballad “I’m Just A Man” which with the addition of slide guitar is about the most country thing on the disk, not to mention the most melodic. An album that warrants repeated listens, here’s thinking this one is for fans only.
It’s been too many albums to bother to count and still Giant Sand manages to craft the good stuff. Put simply, more cool ramblings from the sometimes desert-dwelling band are to be found on the latest endeavor from the Howe Gelb-led collective titled Is All Over…The Map. Feedback, crunch, and distortion all rolled together into an oddly melodic and appealing brew sets the stage for this 14-track affair. Recorded at various locales from Aarhus Sun Studio in Copenhagen to some guy named Harvey’s house in Tucson, Gelb and company, as the title suggests, are typically all over the map on Is All Over…The Map kicking out the jams moving from flat-out rockers (“Remote”) to creaky country to fat, chugging rhythm benders (“Flying Around the Sun At Remarkable Speed” which is at times (Gary) Numan-esque) to chamber rock (the lead-off track “Classico”) to kitchen spareness (“Cracklin Water”) to even a dip into piano jazz with Howe himself doing the ivories honors with the rag titled “Rag” to something that borders on desert rockabilly (“Muss”). As is par for the course, Gelb’s off-the-cuff lyrical approach moves from flip humor to poignancy. The sum total is an album in Is All Over…The Map which for all its stylistic forays may just be the most accessible Giant Sand record in its 19 years of noise making. (Touch & Go Records, P.O. Box 25520, Chicago, IL 60625, or www.tgrec.com; Thrill Jockey Records, Box 08038, Chicago, IL 60608, or www.thrilljockey.com)