The Freelance Mentalists.
Friday, September 21, 2012
  Irwinomic Pressures, Hoganpolitan Release
Couple more re-prints:
Catherine Irwin's new solo album, Little Heater, starts out with her as a maybe wayward but non-waify personal pilgrim, with some bruised resolution to walk on down the tracks. Then she becomes a tough-soled backwoods backstreet visionary, a nature-loving evangelist: "We must save the liars, we must save the liars! For there is much/Truth in them." Also, we must save the whores, the thieves, and "the pirates' hearts",  though not the rest of them apparently, which in hindsight may be a foretaste of gory glory divine, though only glimpsd in those "kerosene lights",  as she eventually (spoilers ahead) looks back: "Ah rose through those valleys unscathed, but Ah couldn't take the heights....when 'Do What Thou Wilt' was the whole of the law." (The ancient motto goes good with the tune and inflections---Appalachians are descendents of the Elizabethans, don't you know). Ends up eternally wistful, having killed the loved one who killed the dream, but not dead enough, on "Banks of the Ohio",  the only cover.
Sound unbearable? It doesn't *sound* unbearable, far from it. After all those steadily progressing quality-vs.- quantity Freakwater albums, plus one prev. solo set, she masterfully guides and trusts the scaled-down pre-bluegrass mountain sounds through isolation and stealthy company (a few strings like creek branches, a steel guitar here, banjo thar, harmonies finding their sea legs soon enough). Also finding her own way through syllables, chords and good ol' tunes in the moment, or so it surely seems. The only thing is, the seriously punk-to-roots humor of her deadpan ways is now pretty much reduced to "is she kidding with that?", and once or twice at most. Unless it can be heard in  the quiet audacity of the whole thing, which might be an allegory of what happens to all religion. Does also seem fully, personally inhabited though. Track by track, it mostly still works--so far, but the lack of humor makes me wonder. Will make my Nashville Scene Top Ten; probably Pazz & Jop too. At this point, Little Heater seems at least strong and scary as Dylan's new Tempest often means to be, and sometimes is. Dylan's Halloween-masked narrator (sounding old as heck, yet manipulatively so) crows, " I pay in blood, but not my own."  Irwin's vagabond sounds younger, but also like she's paid at a much higher exchange rate.
(PS: Little Heater "features a range of guests including Bonnie 'Prince' Billy on vocals, members of Ida on vocals and various instruments, and Marc Orleans on pedal steel", says press sheet).

Meanwhile, Kelly Hogan's I Like to Keep Myself in Pain starts with the same Irwin song Irwin starts  Little Heater with: "Dusty Groove." Which may be what the protagonist feels like, and mebbe she's dusting the walls in the hall as she bumps off 'em, but she's got some concealed, wary agility down in the groove, and pushes herself out into some Loretta Lynn-worthy precision--"Sleeves rolled down/Even in an evening gown", resolutions crumpled in her fist--gliding into understated flamboyance, train of thinking out loud about seeing stars in the love wars or anyway the battered homefront. "Underneath the sweater/Ten fingers are red/Ah bequeath this gold map of the stars to the living dead." Still, the overall vibe of this set is like late 60s crossover bait, radio hits and shoulda-beens, from the age of Lynn and Bacharach and Jim Webb and Randy Newman, when Dusty Springfield was covering Ran' songs(if he wrote "Just One Kiss", or was it Nilsson--anyway, their neck of the woods and Vine). But  as we have seen ,Hogan wisely reserves the right to take it further than most reasonable radio-bait would have. The other great example (yes, there must be two): while "Daddy's Little Girl" reminds me that Newman sincerely offered "Lonely At The Top" to Frank Sinatra, it also sounds like one he would have written for himself (maybe Stephen Merritt wrote it, sounds more adept than recent Newman). Sung by Frank, or somebody who thinks he is, providing a grand, somewhat brain-leaky perspective, a tribute to himself. She does best when she's got something like this, tilting the Hoganpolitan shimmer and sheen, quickly training us to watch for the little psych-pop glints. Even the few merely retro tracks are spot-on. Rec'd to fans of recent Lambert, Pistol Annies, Chely Wright, Lee Ann Womack (thinking esp. of the way Womack did Mark Ribot's "Meds," on Buddy Miller's Majesty of the Silver Strings, where Womack didn't have to deal w the guitar noodles, unlike Patti Griffin and Emmylou on other tracks. (Miller's an effective accompanist, but when he gets between Ribot and Frisell, yow.)
Update: As press sheet points out, Hogan's own compact  studio combo incl. " R&B legends Booker T. Jones and James Gadson (Bill Withers, Beck) as well as talented young lions Gabe Roth (of Daptone Records, the Dap-Kings) and Scott Ligon." (I listening to her and Irwin's albums before reading the credits.) As for the writing, turns out "Daddy's Little Girl" is actually by.M. Ward, of all people (no offense, just never heard anything by him nearly this awesome, to put it mildly. I'll have to further educate myself). The S.Merritt, or at any rate, Mag Fields contribution is the tamest thing here. The bravura "Pass On By", waving away the spotlight right on cue, is by Margaret Ann Rich, triumphantly standing by her tempestuous Charlie, the total cost for which included Lord knows what, but she surely paid some of it in most of his best material. The domestic science-times-rocket or slow train to stardom bit  is featured  in most if not all of the songs on this album, but it's good anyway. Another Nash Scene Top Ten entry----Don Allred
KELLY HOGAN I Like To Keep Myself In Pain Track Listing
DUSTY GROOVE (Catherine Irwin)
WE CAN'T HAVE NICE THINGS (Jack Pendarvis/Andrew Bird)
I LIKE TO KEEP MYSELF in PAIN (Robyn Hitchcock)
HAUNTED (Jon Langford)
GOLDEN (Kelly Hogan)
WAYS of THIS WORLD (Vic Chesnutt)
PLANT WHITE ROSES (Magnetic Fields)
SLEEPER AWAKE (John Wesley Harding)
PASS ON BY (Margaret Ann Rich)


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