Archive for Whiskeytown

With “Muchacho,” Phosphorescent Shines Beyond Its Half-Life

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on March 22, 2013 by johnbuckley100

Matt Houk, who plys his trade under the band name Phosphorescent, has long been a golden-throated marvel, but on the magnificent new Muchacho, he answers three questions that long have puzzled us.

Ever wonder how good Dylan’s late-phase greats would sound if sung by someone whose voice hadn’t been dragged four times across cooling magma?  We used to joke, Mrs. Tulip Frenzy and I, about how Dylan should call Jakob to do the honors.  But the moment we we heard the magnificent “Song For Zula,” we knew Matt Houk was the only one who would do Dylan justice.  You could imagine “Song for Zula” on anything from about Time Out Of Mind on; it’s that good.

And then there’s this question that long has lingered: when will someone record an album that you could segue to directly from the second side of Exile On Main Street, you know, something that combines pedal steel and Memphis horns, something warm and bright as “Loving Cup,” with also that hazy, lazy mystery? If you’ve ever asked that question, yep, Muchacho is for you.  On “The Quotidian Beasts” and other songs we can hear echoes of that notional state where it’s 1971 all over again, and Mick and Keith are in the basement with Nicky Hopkins upstairs in the living room, and Jim Price and Bobby Keys are down the hall in that haunted Southern France mansion, as Gram Parsons lies conked out on the couch.

Speaking of Gram Parsons, our third question has for years been would anyone capture his essence the way the young Ryan Adams did on Whiskeytown’s Strangers Almanac?  If that question’s ever crossed your mind, go get Muchacho.  Like at once, hombre.

In a way, Muchacho is two records.  There are the songs, like “Song for Zula,” that really are Houk recording by himself, with strings or other instruments added on later.  And then there are songs with that full band treatment used to such great effect on Here’s To Taking It Easy, and To Willy, his album of Willy Nelson covers.  And a killer band it is, Whiskeytown being a not unfair approximation.

Phosphorescent burns tantalizingly bright in the night, and so it is with Houk, whose glow we pray last’s beyond the half-life of the artist.

Jesse Sykes And The Sweet Hereafter Spend The Afterlife In Our Mind & Then The Mystery Gets Solved

Posted in Music with tags , , on September 14, 2011 by johnbuckley100

A stopped clock is right twice each day and about once a year, Jon Pareles actually does his job well enough to send us off to check out music we had not heard before.  So it was, in early August, that we discovered Jesse Sykes and The Sweet Hereafter’s Marble Son.  It’s a beguiling record, spooky, weird, and haunting.  And hugely satisfying.  But of course while Pareles’ description got us intrigued enough to check our couch for quarters before walking down to the iTunes Store, he was off in his description of the band. “There’s nothing neo- about this band’s psychedelica,” he wrote.  Okay, we thought.  We filled up the waterbed, donned our paisley duds, and put on the headphones, only to discover… well, the music’s not quite psychedelic, neo- or otherwise.  Something else, something that we couldn’t quite put our finger on.  It was killing us.  Love the band, the guitarist is a killer, but who’s he when he’s at home, as they say?

On the difficulty of categorizing these guys we might even be sympathetic to the Chief Music Critic For The New York Times, or whatever Jon amounted to, because this is a hard band to get a handle on.   These aren’t refugees from the Summer of Love. Better to imagine Blind Faith recording their album in the Bay Area, in that achy period of post-psychedelic disillusionment.  When they flex their power chords, which they do quite often, the thundering riffs can bring to mind current San Francisco neo-psychs Assemble Head In Starburst Sound, or maybe Black Mountain, though there’s a finger-picking delicacy too. What makes The Sweet Hereafter sui generis — and passing strange — is their leader’s voice.  There is nothing else in rock’n’roll music to compare to Jesse Sykes’ voice.  We’re sort of amazed that someone who sings like she does would think of music for a career path.  And we like her!  This isn’t a put down!  But when we close our eyes and try imagining who might be singing, I swear to God what comes to mind is a vision of The Good Witch breaking into a lamentation over being dumped by the Wizard of Oz.  And then the band leaps into this Quicksilver Messenger Service coda that makes Devendra Banhart’s band seem like plodders.  When Sykes sings a single line, unadorned by harmonies layered on by herself or others, there is something so theatrically out of time that, yeah, I guess psychedelia sounds about right.    And when she fires up the whole chorus — listen to the title track, for starters — angelic magic comes galloping in like a horse of a different color.

So we got to thinking… As unique as Jesse’s voice may be, the guitarist sounds familiar… and is so remarkable, for weeks we’ve been tantalized.  “This sounds like someone, who?”  And we read her bio on her website, and saw the reference to “Wandscher” and thought about it a little… the tumblers begin to click… and we slapped our forehead!  It’s Phil Wandscher, the guitarist from Whiskeytown!  The hugely canny guitarist on only the single greatest record of the ’90s, Strangers Almanac.  And it all makes sense.  So… imagine if Whiskeytown were jamming in some first communion afterparty with the Good Witch…  Well, you get the point.  Now get the album.

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