Mixed Media Music Roundup

Music reviews

| January / February 2006

Bobby Bare: The Moon Was Blue (Dualtone)
The comeback album is a genre we'll see more of as '60s stars twinkle one last time before they wink out. That's good news if, like Bobby Bare, they trade their hot blood for the mellow introspection of old age. To hear the 70-year-old croon Fred Neil's 'Everybody's Talkin' ('Everybody's talkin' at me. I don't hear a word they're saying, only the echoes of my mind') is to understand the song for the first time.

In the 1960s, Bare was an independent-minded hit machine who anticipated the Outlaws (he 'discovered' Waylon Jennings, as well as Kris Kristofferson) and wrestled his music rights from the studios. His song 'Drop Kick Me Jesus Through the Goalposts of Life' and his collaborations with Shel Silverstein cemented his reputation as one of the smarter numbers in the Nashville phone book. And then came two decades of silence. His son, Bobby Bare Jr., a second-generation Nashville rebel, coaxed him out of retirement and produced this album.

The songs are old familiars -- 'Love Letters in the Sand,' 'Are You Sincere' -- and Bare's interpretations make even the love songs sound wistful. Bobby Jr. layers oddball arrangements of ghostly singers, whistles, and discordant piano riffs. But it's his father's pensive, hickory-smoked voice that carries the music. He always sounds like he's alone on stage. Which at his age, I guess, is the point. -- Joseph Hart

Gangbe Brass Band: Whendo (World Village)
The term 'brass band' conjures pomp and spats, but Gangbe feels more like a party than a pep rally. From the small West African nation of Benin, the band plays an Africanized brass music that's exuberant and playful. Bright horn lines cut out crisp melodies while warm-voiced singers shout call-and-response repartee. Deep African drums are an earthy alternative to snares. Threads of jazz, pop, and funk run through Gangbe's rich fabric of sound for a romping polycultural march. -- Keith Goetzman

Devendra Banhart: Cripple Crow (XL)
Known for his spare acoustic folk, Devendra Banhart apparently has discovered that the best folk music isn't about purity; it's about diversity. This is his first album with a full backing band and a modern studio, and the result is a dense thicket of gorgeous cello-backed melodies, psychedelic rock, and swinging Latin serenades. Holding it all together is Banhart's extraordinary voice, with its scruffy-furred vibrato, going straight to the heart of your inner flower child. -- Robert McGinley Myers

The Juan Maclean: Less Than Human (DFA/Astralwerks)
The album may be called Less Than Human, but its robot disco tunes are decidedly sensual. Let 'Shining Skinned Friend' show you the way through the lurid back alleys of a virtual city, but then hitch a ride to the electric bonfire outside of town where 'Give Me Every Little Thing' is rocking bodies and leading the crowd in a Village Peoplesque chant. The 14-minute closer, 'Dance with Me,' will shoot shimmery digitized fireworks over your head as you walk home. -- RMM

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