aretha disk 88 298.
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A Hundred Miles Off
Few bands capture the grit and buzz of New York City better than the Walkmen. Both manic and soulful, the band's third album, A Hundred Miles Off, continues the group's uncompromising indie approach without sacrificing attention to craft and melody.
The Walkmen's secret weapons are its repetitious, hypnotic guitar, the high-pitched bray of vocalist Hamilton Leithauser and the oddest but most infectious drumming since the Velvet Underground's Maureen Tucker. Drummer Matt Barrick pounds out inventive tribal rhythms while hardly ever relying on that traditional rock element - the cymbal.
"Lousiana" is a muted, dreamy opener, highlighted by an upbeat mariachi bridge that sounds downright cheery - a marked change of pace from the brooding style that has become the band's ID. The church organ on "All Hands and the Cook" adds a layer of mystery, but most of the material sticks to a guitar-vocals-drums line-up - standard in most rock music but something that sounds totally unorthodox here.
As in-your-face as punk rockers but as nuanced and ethereal as folk artists, the Walkmen move another step on A Hundred Miles Off toward replacing the Strokes as the quintessential NYC band. In an era of cookie-cutter sound-alikes, they've forged a style that's immediately identifiable and memorable in the long term.
Live at the Fillmore West
The Fillmore West was the bastion of West Coast cool in the late Sixties. But impresario Bill Graham's dream was to broaden the tastes of his young, white, hippie audience, so he booked Aretha Franklin for an historic three-night stand in 1969 - what Atlantic label head Jerry Wexler called her breakout with the "longhair crowd."
It was a meeting of two worlds, and Aretha blew her new audience away. Fronting an all-star band that also featured saxophonist King Curtis, organist Billy Preston and Motown greats Bernard Purdie and Cornell Dupree on drums and guitar, the shows were like old time soul revues.
The LP Live at the Fillmore West captured the magic of those nights, and the new re-release - including a second disc of alternate and unused songs from the three-night stand - reminds us what all the excitement was about.
Opening with a manic version of her then-recent number one "Respect," Franklin's at the top her game throughout. She vamps, cajoles and simply belts out her renditions of some of the biggest hits of the day, including "Bridge Over Troubled Waters, "Make It With You," "Love the One You're With," and her own "Dr. Feelgood" and "Spirit in the Dark."
Like Jack Black says in School of Rock, "people just want to party with Aretha." Live at the Fillmore West explains why. On these nights at least, Franklin lived up to her moniker as the "Queen of Soul."
The Essential Chieftains
The original - and best - traditional Irish folk band, The Chieftains have been honored with a lovingly compiled double-disc career overview. Disc One encapulates the band's varied career from its early days in the 1960s through its commercial breakout in the US - "The Women of Ireland" from the 1975 soundtrack to Barry Lyndon - and the group's prolific output through the Eighties and Nineties.
Disc Two - subtitled "The Chieftains and Friends" - features the group's collaborations through the years. It's a virtual "Who's Who" of roots music, featuring contributions from Emmylou Harris, Nanci Griffith, Los Lobos and Ricky Skaggs. There are some logical pairings ("I Know My Love" with the Corrs, "Shenendoah" with Van Morrison), and others that might not make much sense on paper but come to life in the studio ("Love is Teasin'" with Marianne Faithful and "Rocky Road to Dublin" with the Rolling Stones).
But no matter who the Chieftains team up with, this compilation still sounds like the group's work. The band is a musical treasure, and The Essential Chieftains is a must for any fan of Irish music.