By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
The Artist at Starplex, August 9. Like Janet Jackson, this show is probably mesmerizing close up: full of coordinated costume changes, choreography, and big-time lighting. From the lawn, however, it wasn't altogether clear that the show was worth the nearly-$100 price tag (that's simply for access, never mind beer and pizza). The Artist's skill--mastery, even--was apparent from the start: singalong hooks, dynamic dramatics, "You feelin' hot tonight?" call-and-response. After a while, however, you couldn't help but feel it sort of a manipulative genius, a lot closer to Sting than you might've expected.
Squirrel Nut Zippers at the Lakewood Theatre, August 29. The Bad Livers in the opening slot made this a perfect bill. The Livers' loving bluegrass revisionism was the perfect match for the Zippers' revamp of Prohibition-era pop, and both acts put on dynamite shows.
Vilayat and Shujaat Khan at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center, September 27: An absolutely transcendent afternoon, a heady lesson in the benefits of genius--both to the player and to the listener. India's most revered father-son sitar duo are routinely named among the greatest musicians on the planet. The Khans took their listeners on an intoxicating journey, at times joining the imagination so forcefully that you felt yourself losing track of the horizon. The essentially alien nature of the music--full of drones and subtones, the delicate way they could draw out the end of a note as though it were gold wire, and the seemingly mad precision behind the swirling notes they produced all combined to make the program nothing less than astonishing.
David Lindley at the Sons of Hermann Hall, October 27. Intrepid explorer and one-time Jackson Browne sideman Lindley foresaw both polyester geek chic and world music years before they were pop realities. This evening he brought a backing bassist and his collection of the world's weirdest (and cheesiest looking) instruments--a bunch of long-necked, bulb-bodied, bizarrely painted instruments with unusual numbers of strings, along with the more usual guitars and lap steels--and proceeded to engage and dazzle the listener with more spark than many full bands muster.
Quartetto Gelatto at McFarlin Auditorium, November 22. Perhaps it was the way the members of Toronto-based classical group introduced the music they performed--informing and explaining with good humor. Maybe it was the sublime way the instruments--oboe, guitar, violin, viola, cello, accordion--and human voices intertwined and mixed. Or it could just be the enormously restful experience of going to see music at a non-industrial volume level, sitting down in a relaxing atmosphere devoid of smoke and alcohol. Whatever it was, this TITAS evening was like a tall, cold glass of spring water for the brain.
The best regional albums of 1997
From Our Living Room to Yours, the American Analog Set (Emperor Jones/Trance Syndicate). Less like outer space and more like the soundtrack to a grainy black-and-white film whose characters may or may not be ghosts. But affectingly so.
Gon' Be Jus' Fine, Chris Ardoin and Double Clutchin' (Rounder Records). The Ardoin family has been a recognized force in Creole music since 1929, when Amede Ardoin went to New Orleans to become the first Louisiana accordionist to record. Chris Ardoin has kept the spirit alive, mixing old forms and new tricks and coming up with something progressive yet still authentic.
Hogs on the Highway, Bad Livers (Sugar Hill Records). The rednecks don't know, but the college students understand.
No Angel Knows, Slaid Cleves (Philo). Think of Bruce Springsteen without the preening strut, or Loudon Wainwright III without the dyspepsia, and you're nosing around the neighborhood of the unassuming Cleves. It's a sense of the Everyguy that serves his songs about cars, girls, and post-industrial life well, however, keeping his lyrics intimate and conversational.
Anchorless, Kacey Crowley (Carpe Diem/Mercury Records). If Crowley could only sell Lisa Loeb some of that irritated, scared, whiny, bored, urgent edge in her voice-- the immediacy of its claim on your attention--Loeb might be able to abandon "Stay" forever. As it is, the needling demand that underlies Crowley's post-adolescent voice is perfect for the striking stories and pictures she weaves throughout her folk-rock songs.
Souvonica, 8 1U2 Souvenirs (Continental Records). Another slice of Euro-cool from between wars, this one with more emphasis on cabaret than the classic approach of our own Cafe Noir, whom they resemble somewhat. Serious in their playing but spry in their approach, 8 1U2 Souvenirs is just the baguette you need to break the monotony of bluesy roots-burgers. See? The beret fits perfectly!
Spirit of the Sharecroppers, the Good Medicine Band Captive Audience Records). This band--formerly the Sharecroppers--is right on top (along with the Gourds) of that synthesis of old and new that made The Band so important. With three principal songwriters and vocalists, the band gets a particularly appealing variety of sounds and styles.
The Story of My Life, Irma Thomas (Rounder Records). The reigning empress of New Orleans singers--who recorded the Lou Ann Barton favorite "You Can Have My Husband But Please Don't Mess with My Man" in 1959--doesn't get out much, which is a shame: As this soulful album's excellent blend of second-line rhythms, heartbreak, and triumph attests, she can stand toe-to-toe with Chaka Khan, Valerie Simpson, or Patti LaBelle.