Larry Keel’s guitar flatpicking is at its most impressive on his new album, Journey. This self-released album, which Keel also produced, is a unique combination of his high-handed guitar playing, homespun lyrics and surly singing abilities, which make Tom Waits sound like a sissy altar boy. The album starts off with Keel playing mandolin on a fiery version of Bill Monroe’s instrumental, “Roanoke,” and continues with originals in eight of the 14 songs on the album. Not easily categorized, the album touches on several genres that have steered Keel’s personal journey, not to mention the choice of album title.
Throughout Journey one can detect Keel’s influences, ranging from classic rock in Blind Willie Johnson’s “God Don’t Never Change” to Keel’s own “Dreamers”—a distinctly oriental-sounding ballad likely shaped by Keel’s seven-month stint playing music at the Tokyo Disneyland when he was 18 years old. Also included on Journey is “Mark Vann’s Song,” co-written by the selfsame Left Over Salmon’s banjoist, who died in 2002. Keel’s wife Jenny is also on hand to help out on stand-up bass and vocal harmonies. David Vandeventer lends his command of the fiddle on several tracks, and contributes lead vocals to the last song on the album, the traditional “Hangman.” (Diego Bejarano)
The Larry Keel Experience performs at The Top Hat on Friday, July 9.
State of Bengal Vs. Paban Das Baul
Respect and restraint are what is needed for musical collaborations and fusions and this is a great example. Saifullah ‘Sam’ Zaman is a DJ and producer from the British-Asian breakbeat scene who records under the name State of Bengal. His last album was the fantastic Visual Audio which became a cornerstone of Asian underground music and has been featured on virtually every British-Asian compilation including Talvin Singh’s seminal “Anokha.” This time he collaborates with renowned singer Paban Das Baul. “Baul” is the suffix that is used by an Indian mystic group similar to Pakistan’s Qawwals or the Islamic Sufis. The Baul people are a nomadic, ascetic sect that travels the country carrying little more than quilts and instruments, singing songs of love, desire and mysticism. Paban is a virtuoso on the dubki, a tambourine-like instrument and also plays the dotara, a sort of fretless banjo that he tunes to resonate with his voice. The collaboration between these two musicians yields an open and spacious music that is at once electric and acoustic, ancient and modern. Paban’s urgent and hypnotic singing and rhythms combine with Zaman’s ambient tones and electric drum and bass to wondrous effect. Asian Dub Foundation’s Aniruddha Das also plays Bass on the album as well as New York jazz drummer Marque Gilmore. (Colin Ruggiero)
Los Lobos is acknowledging their 30th year (with all four original band members!) by working with some of the people who have inspired the band over the years. The Ride showcases such diverse guests as Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, Richard Thompson, Mavis Staples, Bobby Womack, Café Tacuba and Ruben Blades, to name a few. I wasn’t a big Los Lobos fan until I heard some of the music they recorded for Robert Rodriquez’s “El Mariachi” trilogy. Now, after listening to the breadth of their music, I still favor their more traditional, south-of-the-border stuff but this album shows that the band members are innovative multi-instrumentalists who are capable of taking their music successfully in many directions. “Somewhere in Time,” with Dave Alvin from The Blasters, is a lilting and melodic song that belies their tendency toward more frenetic and distorted rock. “Kitate,” co-written with Tom Waits and performed with both him and Martha Gonzalez is a nearly perfect song, also slower but dark and brooding. Later on in the album the pace switches up again with Richard Thompson and a driving, pedal-tone, drone, ballad thang. From beginning to end this is a well-crafted rock album with some great contributions from other artists but personally, I think they have yet to produce anything as good as their original release, Just Another Band From East L.A. (Colin Ruggiero)
Alan Lomax’s Southern Journey Remixed
Pretty confusing stuff here. What’s apparently happened is two guys named Scott Billington and Steve Reynolds have acquired a roundtable of live musicians, some sophisticated editing software, and the rights to various field hollers and work chants originally recorded by musicologist Alan Lomax in the American South from the late 1940s to 1960; then they somehow massaged that mess of influences into a cohesive, dramatic, powerful recording that neatly sidesteps pretty much every approach that critics have developed over the years to talk about music. And sidestep is the right word—this thing dances.
The applied styles are scattered all over the musical map, from gospel to reggae to contemporary disco (sorry, not up on the latest dance-style hyphenate). But the vocals, originally collected with folkloric motive—not commercial—tie these 12 disparately born tracks together like ankle shackles. Likewise, the tastefulness and joy—it can hardly be respect, exactly—with which the collaborators approach their material puts Southern Journey beyond the reproach of listeners who fear a Natalie Cole-style posthumous fiasco. Few albums in memory have pulled similar tricks off: Steve Jesse Bernstein’s Prison and Doc and Merle Watson’s Ballads from Deep Gap come to mind. It’s good company, and a difficult club to join. And hard as hell to describe, except to say that Southern Journey exceeds the sum of its parts, and those parts are formidable. (Brad Tyer)