Waves: The Bossa Nova Session
Eden Atwood has had her fair share of life. She was born the daughter of famed Memphis jazz musician Hub Atwood, who shot himself when Eden was attending college. This after Eden had been diagnosed with Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, a genetic disorder that will bar her from having children. She has lived as a struggling actress in New York City and has battled her way through Chicago’s club scene. With such an array of experiences to draw upon, then, it is somewhat disappointing that only one song on her recently released album, Waves: The Bossa Nova Session, was actually penned by Atwood herself. Instead, Atwood has recorded a number of Latin standards, some Duke Ellington, some Beatles and assorted jazz classics. Atwood sings these familiar favorites in a voice that is silky and sultry, yet playful at the same time. The vocals are subtle—so subtle, in fact, that renowned pianist Bill Cunliffe occasionally steals the show. Atwood does add her own thing on these cover songs, but probably not enough of it. The question when listening to an album of jazz covers is this: “What are you going to do to keep me from taking off your album and putting on the original instead?” Atwood quite intentionally doesn’t offer any brashly self-indulgent tangents on Waves. Instead, she sings with the refinement of a classically trained vocalist. If this were an Olympic competition, Atwood would receive highest marks for technical merit, but might lose out in the long run on the artistic merit count. Nonetheless, the future looks bright for Eden Atwood. The one number that she herself penned, the title track, is by far the album’s strongest. On “Waves,” Atwood’s feelings shine through the recording (and this may almost always be the case when a singer sings her own words as opposed to someone else’s). On this song, Atwood’s lyrics glisten with the straightforward beauty of a couple dancing their last dance together before a long departure. The fact that Atwood named the album after this song may be an indicator that she knew “this was the one.” The singer, who’s best known in these parts for her work with the Last Best Band, dedicates the album’s closing track, “A Quiet Thing,” to Missoula jazz pianist Jodie Marshall, singing “There are no exploding fireworks. Where’s the roaring of the crowd?” Indeed, most of Waves comes off as quiet background music, sans fireworks. But the title track is an exception, and as Atwood pursues writing and recording her own material, she’s got nowhere to go but up.
The Pattern is Full
It was only a matter of time before someone picked up the rock and roll ideas of the Smashing Pumpkins, held them up in the light next to “Joe jam band” and said, “Hey, I think we can work with this.” That is precisely what Bozeman’s Jetstream Cowboy have done on their new album, The Pattern Is Full. Picking up where the Meat Puppets left off, Jetstream Cowboy blends swooping, catchy rock and roll guitar riffs with spaced-out jam methodology to lend a touch of craftsmanship to the blah-blah-blah of most Top 40 rock, and to the uninventiveness of most punk, for that matter. And Jetstream Cowboy somehow accomplish this without forcing themselves so far away from the center as to become just another band in the growing breed of esoteric, alienating noise-rockers who operate obviously—and conspicuously—on a much hipper wavelength than the rest of the world. It is little matter that Jetstream Cowboy can sing only in the physical sense of the word. The band’s preferred method of vocalizing is the yowl, but it’s a clear, confident yowl. In other words, you can tell that this is neither a lack of confidence in a singing voice nor a gimmick to sound like “that band that yowls.” Rather, it’s a confident declaration—this is just how we sing—though lyrics, in this case, are rightly overshadowed by instrumentation. The band delivers winding, twirling, free-form madness with a method, held together in the loosest way possible with a steady drum beat. You have to wonder if these Bozeman dudes live near the airport, though, with song titles like “Airshow,” “Sweep the Wings” and “Jets Go Up, Jets Go Down.” Yet the recurring airplane lyrics are appropriate to Jetstream’s sound. The Pattern Is Full leaves the indelible impression of being above the clouds, looking down on little specks of green and brown earth. It takes you to that level, particularly on “Airshow,” a song that juxtaposes vocal harmonies and guitars to wind through turbulence, only to pull through into a clear rock hook on the other side. The thing that’s great about The Pattern Is Full is that it makes you earn (and yearn for) the payoff. The average song length is about six minutes, and Jetstream uses the time to build and build, like a plane speeding up on the runway, until finally, just when you can’t take it anymore…we have liftoff.