Admit it, you like the Gipsy Kings. They’re over-associated with ’80s cheese and it’s not fair. These guys are the real deal, and until Buena Vista Social Club came out The Best of the Gipsy Kings was the best-selling world music album of all time. So people definitely like them, but why won’t more of them admit it?
Their new album on the Rounder label is a return to the band’s Gypsy rumba roots. With so much over-produced, over-synthesized music today—especially on the world scene, where everything is a “fusion” or a DJ/club version of something “tribal”—it’s good to see that traditional acoustic music can still be compelling. And authentic: Three of the band members are sons of celebrated flamenco singer Jose Reyes.
Voices in the Reyes (“kings”) family are gravelly, husky and heavenly. The rest of the band is made up of the Reyes’ cousins, the Baliardos, who are guitarists. Gypsy guitar is a beautiful thing, and the Kings’ latest has plenty of alternately searing and lilting guitar solos. This album is rooted in the rhythmic rumba gitana style that they made famous. The songs are great, there’s a little more grit in their voices, and their chops are better than ever. (Colin Ruggiero)
Character Assassins Wäntage USA
Here’s what usually happens with your hardcore band: First you write about a million two-minute songs. Then you decide you want to cram as many of them as possible on a seven-inch record, which even at 33-and-a-third RPMs would sound better and look less vaguely pathetic with half the amount of music on it. You find someone to record it cheaply—or you do it yourself in the basement—with the mix determined so democratically that nothing stands out except the shitty death-metal bass tone that there was no talking the bassist out of. Then you skip the mastering and end up with a record that sounds exactly like a thousand others. It gets a decent review in MRR, a few carefully concealed dollar bills show up in the mail, you sell a few at shows and you trade or consign as many as you can with distributors you’ll never hear back from.
Character Assassins runs counter to this established wisdom, which to some extent has guided almost all Missoula hardcore releases to date. It looks great (the LP version, like most Wäntage releases, has a silk-screened cover), it sounds incredible (courtesy of recording wizard/former Champs guitarist Tim Green), and its 12 songs find this Missoula-Kalispell supergroup playing at the very top of its game. So this is the beating all those Disgruntled Nation records were hinting at. Killer. Fresh off a six-week tour, Ass-End Offend plays Area 5 on Thursday, Aug. 26, at 8 PM. (Andy Smetanka)
Quarterstick/Touch & Go
It’s always good to have a Calexico record in your collection for those times when you find yourself throttling down the road somewhere between San Diego and Tijuana in a black El Camino with one hand on the wheel and one hand on a bottle of tequila to see your Gypsy cousin marry a mariachi bandleader. If Quentin Tarantino directed a Spaghetti Western, Calexico would supply the soundtrack. For fans of this sound, there is nothing not to like about Convict Pool, except that it has only six tracks. The EP features three originals and three covers, with Joey Burns’ rolling indie-flamenco guitar and John Convertino’s driving percussion flavoring smoky and sincere ballads and disjointed waltzes punctuated with accordions and pedal steel. A good horn section is hard to beat anytime, and this sound would be lost without one blazing up the Minutemen cover “Corona” and then lighting up the soulful rock cover “Si Tu Disais.”
If this weren’t Calexico’s sixth album, it would be tempting to call Convict Pool experimental. But this blend of spices has the scope and depth to take you someplace you’ve never been, someplace that might not exist. And if you do get there, it will be in a black El Camino. (Yogesh Simpson)
Mobile Home Girl
Sounds like this guy has quite a life going on up there in Alaska. A former TV newsman, the transplanted Hoosier now makes his living as a videographer, flying into frontier communities and reporting on human interest stories for a cable program called Alaska Heartbeat. When he’s not doing that, he cruises around in a ’65 VW microbus contributing strands of his own to the creative fabric in remote outposts like Chicken, where the local Fourth of July tradition is to shoot underwear collected in a wooden box behind the Chicken Creek Saloon during the previous year out of a “panty cannon.”
As might be expected in a state with venues that can be reached only by airplane, Manning’s music is necessarily portable; as long as the venue has a piano, the only thing he needs to haul around with him are the songs. It’s more like storytelling with boogie-woogie piano than songwriting proper—shaggy-dog stories he’s heard in his travels, stories dedicated to friends whose girlfriends leave them for “Weird Al” Yankovic.
The album even sounds like a saloon performance for miners buying drinks with gold dust: rowdy, ribald, self-referential and narrated on different levels with singing, talk-singing and spoken word. It’s enjoyable. Robert W. Service would probably approve. Dave Manning opens for Mose Allison at The Top Hat on Sunday, Aug. 22. (Andy Smetanka)