The first time I got into Sinead was around '91, when she graced the cover of Spin. My mother had just died and I thought I hated her. I must have loved her so much that I wanted to die too, because I hadn't eaten anything for about six months. I was in an airport the day I bought that Spin, in the process of being shuffled from one relative to another, so I actually read the whole article. Turned out Sinead's mom died also, but not before she made all the kids live in the garden for a while. And I mean sleep, eat and shit in the back yard.
I spent most of that year listening to Combat Rock or The Lion and the Cobra. Sinead was for me, and so many girls my age, an icon. A goddess. An Irish Joan of Arc. It didn't take long for her to fall, like the time I got mad at Sinead for running offstage and crying when an audience booed after she'd torn up that picture of the Pope on television. I was mad because she was stronger than that?she had to be, because I had to be. But no matter how I felt about her personal choices, the music kept me coming back. There aren't many albums from that period in my life I still feel like playing, but I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got, the record of love songs dedicated to her mother, is one of them. If there was a bombing and kids died, which happened often when I lived in London, I would put on "Three Babies." "Nothing Compares 2 U" will always remind me of my mom, and for some reason whenever I have a disagreement with my boyfriend it's "Mandinka" all night long.
Many reviewers are upset with this latest effort, saying it's one more in a string of albums that prove Sinead's lost the old pain and angst that made her voice send shivers down our spines. Well, Sinead's in "The Healing Room," as she puts it on the first track; join her if you like. And as for spine-tinglers, just the title of "No Man's Woman" does it for me. It's worth buying the CD if only for that song, which may soon replace "Mandinka" on my regular play list.
Ernie Kovacs' first rule of Hollywood is find something the people like, then beat it to death. An audience can forgive a performer anything, except changing, although Sinead hasn't changed that much. Perhaps it's a more "adult" sound. We may still be unsure of her sexuality, but Sinead's definitely not the same angry, sad little girl in the garden. Now she understands "I've other work/I want to get done."
Home Is Where You Hang Yourself Her Space Holiday (Tiger Style)
This is such a gentle, sad record. It makes you wonder what could have hurt Marc Bianchi so badly in his short, blues-filled life that he could make a record sounding so betrayed and hopeless. Check the title: no everyday, trivial diversions like tv or perhaps a day at the races for Bianchi. He's obsessed and wants the whole world to share in the pain of that obsession. The woman he loves is far away in the arms of another, and he certainly doesn't sound happy about it. Lucky for us, perhaps. Bianchi's amorous misfortunes have led him to create a sometimes spellbinding, beautiful record full of trembling silences and bittersweet minor chords. Like Codeine and Britain's Field Mice before him, this San Francisco poet fully understands the power of understatement?especially when making an album so clearly dedicated to one person, the "beautiful bride" of "The Doctor and the DJ." Acoustic guitars sing quietly to themselves at the start of "Famous to Me" (which also echoes with the sound of a thousand late-night fairground organs). The spooked, melancholy "Snakecharmer" recalls Jesus and Mary Chain at their most impassioned (i.e., their quietest). "A Matter of Trust" features an harmonica wailing gently to itself as time seems to linger forever. Mostly, though, Her Space Holiday recalls the folded-back rhythms of Spiritualised's Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space (another album created about the perceived betrayal of a lover). For the effortless feeling of space within the grooves, for the acid-tinted harmonies. For the almost Warp Records-style gentle electronic beats, for the gently whispered vocals. It is because of this last comparison point that Home Is Where You Hang Yourself cannot be claimed as a classic debut?unlike the other album partly inspired by Bianchi's former lover, from the astonishingly poignant Bright Eyes.
Ironically enough, the former lover of Spiritualised's Jason Pierce is now the wife of the Verve's ex-singer Richard Ashcroft?and has gone on to inspire that British singer's new album. A right turkey, all round, absolutely devoid of any insurrectionary passion whatsoever. Let's hope Bianchi never finds true love.
Mayor of Punkville William Parker & the Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra (Aum Fidelity)
Painter's Spring William Parker Trio (Thirsty Ear)
William Parker, who carries his big stand-up bass on his back as if he were a burro, or middle linebacker, is one prolific SOB. He does it with the fez on, and it reaps great glory. On this pair of new albums he continues his streak as the hardest-working bassman in the business, and also proves he's capable of leading both large and small formats with proficiency and conviction. Mayor of Punkville is the latest excursion by his big band, the Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra (in honor of Sun Ra's Arkestra, no doubt) and, like its predecessor Sunrise in the Tone World, it's a work of sustained brilliance. Considering that Sunrise was a double LP, and that Parker put out a two-disc set with his own band, In Order to Survive, in 1998 (The Peach Orchard), that's three double LPs in just under three years. Add to that a half-dozen other stylistically varied projects, as well as his work as a sideman for David S. Ware, and one can see why the guy never sleeps. In any event, the evidence for his elevation to a jazz deity is pretty convincing.
Take Mayor of Punkville. What's with that title anyway? Is that a nod to the downtown noise cats he's jammed with?Thurston, etc.? Or a commentary on the general state of affairs (black or white)? It doesn't matter?even without explanation, the music paints a vivid enough portrait on its own. Just about every musical experience that's ever been called "jazz" can be found somewhere on these two discs. "James Baldwin to the Rescue" begins with some female vocalizations reminiscent of Abbey Lincoln, courtesy of Aleta Hayes, before drifting into a soprano sax solo by the promising young player Chris Jonas. "Oglala Eclipse" begins with a brief sax solo from tenor man Darryl Foster before breaking into a three-way squawk-off among the alto players: Rob Brown, Charles Waters and Ori Kaplan. The next cut, the 28-minute "I Can't Believe I Am Here," is the most overblown orchestral passage on the record.
This disc was recorded live at Tonic in summer and fall of 1999, so it plays more like a document than a mere grab bag of easily accessible tunes. But the Little Huey Orchestra warrants this kind of documentation?how many avant-garde big bands does one encounter in a lifetime, particularly good ones?
Disc Two consists of shorter selections, like "Interlude #7 (Huey's Blues)," which features some wheezing Miles Davis-style horn. The three-part suite "Three Steps to Noh Mountain" is one of the most tuneful pieces on the album: a slow march with a melodically repetitive figure that almost sounds Chinese. That brings up Eric Dolphy, and Ori Kaplan's alto soloing in the section called "Soft Wheel" is very reminiscent of the great master. The Sun Ra stuff comes back on "Mayor of Punkville," another long excursion with lots of complicated soloing but grounded in a kind of kinetic energy that flows freely. Parker really gets the whole Arkestra?excuse me, Orchestra?swinging to a body-moving crescendo.
Painter's Spring is a cooking tour de force featuring two superb young players in Daniel Carter (alto, tenor, flute, etc.) and Hamid Drake (drums). It's rare to hear such cohesion these days, but this trio accomplishes it in the name of the whole Coltrane/Ornette tradition. A lot of people are soured on the new jazz, claiming it just doesn't have the same kick as the old jazz. They should listen to this: "Foundation #1" starts with bowed bass reminiscent of the one that begins Pharoah Sanders' Black Unity before Parker switches to a walking bassline closer to Charlie Haden. The drums are a whirlaround, a thunderclap of percolating intensity that propels the rhythms to new heights of sonic glory. Daniel Carter is becoming one of the heavyweights on the scene and this album may be the most useful forum he's had yet to express himself. On "Come Sunday" he plays flute, and Parker does some amazing bass work. The whole album swings, which isn't what we've always come to expect from a Parker-led project. For complete jams, "Foundation #4" is an absolute masterwork of Coltranean proportions, with incredible bass and another scorching solo from Carter. It all adds up to the best album Parker's ever done.
Joe S. Harrington & Noel Ventresco
Happy Ending Dogstar (Ultimatum Music)
I'll try to use as few cheap shots as possible, which means no jokes about the ultimatum I'd like to give this band, or what I myself would consider a happy ending. The first time I ever heard the term "dogstar" was in rural Wales (and I realize putting "rural" in front of "Wales" is overkill, but that's where they told me I was). The place being a bed-and-breakfast type deal, in the evening all the guests decided to walk into "town" and hit a pub. There were only the two, apparently, and we were told by the proprietor (later called a "faggot" by an ex-RAF pilot who led walking trips in the area) that the Dogstar would be our best bet, as the other pub might prove "too rough for us." Inside we opted for "a quick one," mainly because the clientele was comprised of a few crosseyed teenagers playing pool in the back and a guy at the bar dressed like he was after his lucky charms.
That Dogstar is about as much my scene as this one. Okay, there's the obvious: Keanu Reeves plays in the band, and by the look on his face on the cover art, he knows exactly what we think of him. I generally have a very low opinion of actors. Maybe that's because as a writer I work for a living. Admittedly there are some good ones, and even a handful of great ones. The only place I'd trust Keanu in a movie theater is behind the popcorn machine?with heavy supervision. The track I liked was "Superstar," and after a few seconds of humming that catchy melody I got suspicious and checked the credits. It's a cover, hence the catchiness. The rest is early 90s "rock," although more on the pop tip than the Soundgarden heaviness end. If the good ship 90210 were still operational, I'm sure these guys would be regulars at the Peach Pit. I think the lyrics on "Washington" speak for themselves: "I feel something near/Is it misery or fear/It's a mystery unclear/What am I doing here." Hey Keanu, that's what we're wondering too. What the fuck are you doing here? I'd say stick to what you know best, if I had even the slightest clue what that is.