CD reviews

Solomon Burke, The Mountain Goats, Lee Scratch Perry

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Nashville

SOLOMON BURKE

Shout Factory

A lot of old soul singers have a deep affection for country music, and Solomon Burke is certainly no exception. After a 2002 career resurgence sparked by the Joe Henry-produced Don't Give Up on Me, Burke is apparently free to indulge himself in pet projects, like this country set helmed by ace guitarist Buddy Miller. Nashville isn't as satisfying as Burke's R&B work, but it's a qualified success, mostly because the master vocalist ladles his usual bluesy wail all over the proceedings. While the crackshot array of musicians brings the twang, Burke hews closer to the blues. (And as several of these songs bear out, the line between the blues and country can be razor thin.)

Nashville traverses quite a bit of country territory: two-steps, hoedowns, weeperoos and hints of mountain music. Best of all are a handful of acoustic ballads. The opener, Tom T. Hall's "How I got to Memphis" finds Burke backed by only Miller's acoustic guitar and a standup bass; his voice is particularly resonant, as if the big man were singing in the middle of a spacious living room with a single overhead mic. On the other end of the spectrum is Patty Griffin's ballad "Up to the Mountain," which is outfitted with a string quartet. Here, as throughout, Burke exhibits his special gift for lyric interpretation. When he sings the line "Sometimes I feel like I've never been nothin' but tired," he adds just the slightest hint of weary grain, and then comes "And I'll be workin', workin, 'til the day I expire," where he starts to belt, adding just a touch of pride and defiance. He is, after all, doing it all for his woman.

On Nashville, Solomon Burke, at 66, proves beyond doubt that he's a treasure, a man who can sing damn near anything. Still and all, another heartfelt, thought-out soul record like Don't Give Up on Me would have been a better gift. 3 stars

Get Lonely

THE MOUNTAIN GOATS

4AD

Released on the heels of last year's much-celebrated The Sunset Tree, an intense look at abuse and alcoholism, Get Lonely doesn't exactly find Goats main man John Darnielle trying to cheer anyone up. The album is sparse and precise, with little but acoustic guitar, piano, strings, brushed drums and Darnielle's whimper. Like most mellow indie folk, the disc tends to be a little lugubrious but Darnielle keeps the tempos up on enough tracks to keep you from dozing off. 3.5 stars —Cooper Levey-Baker

Panic in Babylon

LEE SCRATCH PERRY

Narnack

Reggae legend Perry has never exactly been noted for adhering to convention, but surely "Inspector Gadget 2004" ranks as one of the man's most bizarre moments. Shortly after an instrumental intro that references the cartoon theme song, Perry and band launch into the chorus: "Inspector Gadget/ Come back in his rocket/ Inspector Gadget/ Come back to the sockets." Lyrical oddities aside, this album is what you expect when you pick up a Perry record: long mutant grooves, bouncing bass lines and Perry himself muttering whatever's on his mind into the mic. When the man's on, he's on. But Inspector Gadget? 3 stars —CLB

Olesi: Fragments of an Earth

GEORGIA ANNE MULDROW

Stones Throw

The only female vocalist signed to West Coast indie hip-hop stalwart Stones Throw, Muldrow doesn't rap, but she does do pretty much everything else on her debut record. She sings, plays and produces from start to finish. Her roots are in soul, but other influences creep in, like the boom-bap of label pal Madlib and the anarchic spasm of free jazz (her mother Rickie Byars performed with Pharoah Sanders). It's an often fierce combination. Opener "New Orleans" — nearly twice as long as any other track — burns white hot, with a churning rhythm, off-key piano pounding and Muldrow howling about death and drowning. "Intense" is an understatement. 3.5 stars —CLB

Classics

RATATAT

XL

With a title as ballsy this, album number two from New York duo Ratatat sounds like some hot shit. Hip-hop drum loops mix with fuzzy guitars and diving synthesizers to create tracks that are oddly catchy without the presence of even a single vocal turn. This focus on instrumental chops, though, closes off attempts to get a deeper sense of purpose from the album. It's easy to imagine an MC making mincemeat out of luscious instrumental beds like these. While the pair hasn't produced a classic, Ratatat throws one stylish 42-minute party. 3.5 stars —CLB

About The Author

Eric Snider

Eric Snider is the dean of Bay area music critics. He started in the early 1980s as one of the founding members of Music magazine, a free bi-monthly. He was the pop music critic for the then-St. Petersburg Times from ‘87-’93. Snider was the music critic, arts editor and senior editor of Weekly Planet/Creative...
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