The Wall to Wall Sessions
Ernest Jenning Record Co. EJRC018
Released this past October, let’s just say had The Wall to Wall Sessions from singer/songwriter Chris Mills shown up in the mail in a little more timely fashion than a week before Christmas, it no doubt would have secured a spot in the Compact Capsules Best of 2005 lineup. In other words, since arriving this sucker has gotten an awful lot of play in the car, bathroom and kitchen, not to mention on the weekly radio show. What with four previous solo releases to his credit to go with a number of appearances on assorted other albums, Mills should not be a stranger to the indie rock world. Sadly, other than critics and tastemaker types who have tapped into his magic, Mills is still not as renowned as his music and songs are deserving. For The Wall to Wall Sessions, the now Brooklyn-based Mills returned to his prior long-time haunt of Chicago and as usual tapped the talents of many of the Windy City’s finest musicians and singers from the indie underground to aid in the making of the record. To be exact, about 19 of his Chicago cronies or as he describes them in the liner notes, “The City That Works.” To call The Wall to Wall Sessions just an album is a discredit to the magic its got going. What with “The City That Works” 19-piece orchestra at his beckoning call, a wall of sound extravaganza is a more apt description. Mills’ highly recommended previous platters each employed the basic guitar-bass-drums configuration while leaning hard in a pop direction with the occasional rootsy flourishes. The Wall to Wall Sessions is a pop record in many ways, but with the abundance of strings and horns making their way into the mix, chamber pop is more like it on this go-round. “I dreamed I was Richard Pryor / Running on fire down the Sunset Strip” sings Mills on the leadoff number titled “Chris Mills Is Living the Dream”. Little did Mills realize that the renowned comedian would pass less than two months after the release of The Wall to Wall Sessions. The unintentional timeliness of the namedropping (not to mention the image of Pryor on fire what with his highly publicized freebasing fuck-up of long ago), especially being the first words Mills yelps, is a definite attention grabber. The stately easing in of piano and strings as the backdrop makes for mucho dramatic effect while at the same time piquing the senses. An intriguing songwriter with an uncanny ear for melody, such grandeur touches on this and most all of the 10 songs comprising the album lends an air of sonic elegance to The Wall to Wall Sessions. In these times of too much of the same-old, same-old indie rock world, Mills’ bold and ballsy approach to his latest record results in an album that is downright spellbinding. (Ernest Jenning Record Company, 68 Cheever Place No. 2, Brooklyn, NY 11231, or www.ernestjenning.com. Chris Mills’ web site is at www.chris-mills.com.)
Chris Mills opens for Ben Folds on Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel in Providence on Tuesday, April 4. Lupo’s is located at 79 Washington Street in Providence. Call 401-331-LUPO or check the club’s web site at www.lupos.com.
Starving Winter ReportBloodshot Records BS-126
What with the Rolling Stones perhaps still fresh on the mind of anyone who tuned into the Super Bowl halftime spectacle back at the beginning of February, the time is certainly right for the Deadstring Brothers. From the Jagger-esque likeness in the voice of band leader Kurt Maschke’ to his loose riffing ala Keith on lead guitar, the aroma is a distinct Exile On Main Street-era Rolling Stones throw-down where the Deadstring’s latest release called Starving Winter Report is concerned. (Now only if the band’s label, Bloodshot Records, could have anted up the cash to buy an ad for the band just after halftime, Lord only knows…..) The addition of a female vocalist in Masha Marjieh only adds to what in sum total is an awfully appealing collection of tunes, particularly if your jones for the Stones is as strong as that of the Deadstring’s. But, whereas that Stonesyness is there in the music, aping is not an issue. The Detroit-based band’s debut release for Bloodshot Records, Starving Winter Report is a reckless road of rock ‘n’ roll songs with a country underpinning which after a couple of listens washes down real good while at the same time doing the Motor City no frills rock ‘n’ roll tradition proud. Initially released in Europe where the band thanks to its first four releases for the Michigan-based alt indie Times Beach label has built itself a pretty solid following, not to mention winning the ears of loads of critics, Starving Winter Report now sees its Stateside release thanks to Bloodshot Records. Given the label’s track record with bands of the roots rock pedigree, it’s a good fit. A full-bodied affair that finds the Deadstringer’s making use of everything from pedal steel to horns to piano to organ to fiddle to of course, plenty of tasty twang from Marschke, the range is far and wide on Starving Winter Report. It sees the band move from the jaunty rocker “Sacred Heart” which leads things off in high style to a rollicking cover of The Band’s “Get Up Jake” to “Lights Go Out” which drips with country soul to the homespun acoustic jam of “Moonlight Only Knows” to the laced-with-steel “It’s All Over Now” to “Talkin’ Born Blues” with a slide riff hearkening back to Muddy Waters’ “I Can’t Be Satisfied” which the aforementioned Stones cover on the More Hot Rocks LP. Hot shit stuff this Starving Winter Report. It’s certainly keeping this shack warm. (Bloodshot Records, 3039 W. Irving Park Road, Chicago, IL 60618, or www.bloodshotrecords.com)
(Dan Ferguson is a free-lance music writer and host of The Boudin Barndance, broadcast Thursday nights from 6 – 9 pm on WRIU-FM 90.3. He lives in Peace Dale and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)