Today’s finds: Recent gems from Greek rockers The Callas and Sonic Youth‘s Lee Ranaldo, Mississippi blues scion Cedric Burnside and London dance masters Skeewiff. Get up for the downstroke.
The Callas With Lee Ranaldo
Trouble And Desire
MY ASSESSMENT: The old bait-and-switch is usually a bad thing. Not this time. Undoubtedly, like a lot of people, I snagged this album because it featured Sonic Youth alum Lee Ranaldo. I had honestly never heard (or even heard of) The Callas before. Turns out they’re a fantastic Greek post-punk outfit. And Ranaldo doesn’t really have that much to do with their third album, aside from contributing seven minute-long drones that fit between the songs. But trust me, you won’t mind — not after you hear the darkly serpentine Magic Fruit of Strangeness or the noisy, SY-inspired edge of the title cut and Mirroir. Now, undoubtedly like a lot of people, I also have to go track down all their other albums. Thanks, Lee.
IN THEIR OWN WORDS: “The group begun working with Lee Ranaldo on the soundtrack of their feature film The Great Eastern and continued on their new album Trouble And Desire where Ranaldo composed music for the atmospheric Octopus Parts 1 to 7 that unify all the special and “weird” feeling of the album. Ranaldo described his experience on collaborating with the Callas: “It’s been a pleasure for me to know and collaborate with The Callas on their new album Trouble and Desire – we met a few years ago and I’ve been drawn into their artistic world in Athens. I’m a fan of their visual art tapestries and their art studio/venue and I’ve been having a great time making music with these like-minded travelers. Our collaboration took off quickly and was such a natural fit – we speak the same language and the performances we’ve done together have been a total blast! I love the community of artists that they have gathered around them, and I hope we will do more collaborations in the future.”
Benton County Relic
MY ASSESSMENT: Nobody needs to reinvent the blues. Especially not the raw-boned juke-joint variety practised and perfected by third-generation singer-guitarist Cedric Burnside. Continuing the tradition laid down by his iconic grandfather R.L. Burnside, Cedric’s eighth album is another dependably gritty, authentically grounded batch of knotty backwoods guitar work, shambling drums and lyrics about the everyday hardships and happinesses of life. Weird thing, though; a lot of the times his vocals sound more like The Blasters‘ Phil Alvin than his grandpappy. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
IN THEIR OWN WORDS: “Take one glance at the iconic tintype photograph which serves as the cover to his new album, Benton County Relic, and you know immediately that Cedric Burnside is the real deal. “When I first saw it, I thought I looked like an outlaw,” he laughs. And while Cedric humbly refers to himself in the album’s title, the music within is anything but ancient, the rich tradition of Hill country blues dragged kicking and screaming into the modern-day with crackling electricity amid its nod to life’s essentials. If the blues has traditionally been about getting through hard times, Benton County Relic offers the kind of deep baring of the soul that enables us to transcend oppression, whether in the 19th century or in the precarious present.”
Put Your Hands Together
MY ASSESSMENT: Sometimes you want to sit down and listen. And sometimes you want to get up and dance. The umpteenth release from London duo Skeewiff — a.k.a. Pedigree Cuts and Jalapeno Records founders Alex Rizzo & Elliot Ireland — is clearly built for the latter. But that doesn’t mean it’s just mindless thumpa-thump. Along with irresistible grooves and cool collaborations, these cuts seamlessly mix, match and mingle everything from old-school disco, funk and jazz to reggae and ragtime. It’s a winning hand.
IN THEIR OWN WORDS: “Skeewiff have blazed a trail in the field of breakbeat and funk for over 20 years. Put Your Hands Together brings together some of their key collaborators of recent years to make up an exquisitely produced and supremely groovy collection. Fans of the groove maestros won’t be strangers to the red herring (but darned cute) cover image — but seconds into track Starsky And June reveals a modern funksploitation classic featuring scene veterans The Brand New Heavies. I Don’t Follow The Trend featuring Baby Bam (Jungle Brothers). Other participants such as Freak Power’s Ashley Slater (via his Kitten And The Hip project) and piano genius Dan Hewson make this a record of such caliber that it plays out like this year’s prime crate digger compilation.”