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This week: Discs by Roger Houston, Paul Mark & The Van Dorens, Neil Young & Crazy Horse, and +44

Music reviews - 12-06-06 

This week: Discs by Roger Houston, Paul Mark & The Van Dorens, Neil Young & Crazy Horse, and +44

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Paul Mark & The Van Dorens
Trick Fiction
Radiation Records

I first saw this cat at the Tralf in Buffalo around 1990 and I’ve followed him ever since. Short answer: Paul Mark plays the blues. And being a white guy in this somewhat overrun genre has its drawbacks. The only way to keep it fresh and interesting is to bring the heat, and your own story. On Trick Fiction Mark brings the heat no prob; he works his Strat out big and clean and the man sings like a 10-foot-tall black lumberjack preacher. Mark and his group have always swung sexy like their suicide blonde bombshell namesake. But what sets them apart on this record are Mark’s stories, hipster view, and turn of phrase. Lyrics like “I saw Jesus in the Riverside Diner/Working coffee and a smoke/His head was hanging low/Wondering where it all went wrong” will ring in your head long after the music has worn out your dancing feet.

--- Frank De Blase



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Roger Houston
Flowers in the Desert

Don’t let his skeletal arrangements and self-effacing charm fool you. Roger Houston (who once proclaimed himself “America’s favorite fuck-you clown”) possesses a sophisticated writing mind; he merely prefers lo-fi means to express it. When his vocal melodies and harmonies make an entrance into his tinny, stabbing synthscapes, it becomes obvious that Houston has seen the bedrock of sublime beauty that lies buried deep beneath pop’s shiny exterior.

While producer Nic Marinaccio wisely upholds Houston’s spare sound by smoothing over the rough edges almost invisibly, Flowers presents some of Houston’s most challenging material to date. On one song, for example, experimental saxophonist Chris Wicks cameos to lift a ghostly, already gorgeous keyboard arrangement to stratospheric heights. Houston may make you laugh, but his stuff hits --- no, touches --- where it hurts. 

--- Saby Reyes-Kulkarni




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Neil Young & Crazy Horse
Live at the Fillmore East

In March 1970, after recording Déjà Vu with CSNY, Neil Young grabbed Crazy Horse and played two shows at the Fillmore East, the “church of rock and roll,” in Manhattan’s East Village. At 43 minutes, Live at the Fillmore East gleans six songs from the two shows that are as grandiose in their execution as Michael Jordan playing basketball, or JFK declaring, “We will go to the moon!”

The dusty fuzz of the guitars is more visceral here than on the well-known studio versions, particularly in “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere.” The solo work by Young and Danny Whitten is sometimes reminiscent of David Gilmour’s dreaminess, and sometimes sounds as though the musicians are jabbing at notes that are on fire.

Hustling out a backwoods stomp is “Wonderin’,” which feels as urban as it does rural and wouldn’t be out of place in anyone’s hands, from the Stanley Brothers to The Temptations.

Closer “Cowgirl in the Sand” is the record’s shiniest gem, rocking for 16 minutes until its own jaw drops, reminding any studio wunderkind how much can be done with a five-piece and 40 minutes.

--- Joel Leonard Chaffee


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When Your Heart Stops Beating
Interscope Records

Initially conceived to be an electronic-leaning rock group formed after the “hiatus” (read: demise) of Blink-182, +44 actually sounds like all those crappy late high-school/early college garage bands where the members play fast, possess little discipline, and even less artistry. Debut disc When Your Heart Stops Beating is one-part guitar thrashing, one part crappy lyrics, one part synthesizer, and one part b-o-r-i-n-g. The 12 tracks sound so much like one another, it’s sometimes difficult to tell the difference between songs. Only on the title track and “155” does any chemistry or interest come through.

While I don’t necessarily miss the bodily function jokesters of Blink-182’s heyday, I was rather disappointed that the growth that Travis Barker and Mark Hopper showed on Blink’s final album didn’t sustain itself for this effort. Download the singles, save yourself some cash.

--- Todd Rezsnyak




  • This week: Discs by Roger Houston, Paul Mark & The Van Dorens, Neil Young & Crazy Horse, and +44


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