Monday, June 22, 2009

Reviews: Skygreen Leopards / Light in August / Bull Halsey

The Skygreen Leopards - Gorgeous Johnny (Jagjaguwar)

Aptly self-declared "disciples of California: and beholders of a hallowed psyche-folk, The Skygreen Leopards have always mused a hazy sort of acoustic pop; meditative and aloof yet always rapt with sturdy hooks, warm janglings from its pores and healthily flared with haunting reverb atmospherics. Their albums often feel like calm traipses up tall grassy hills toward the teasing mystery of the orange glowing sunset. Formed in 2001 between songwriters Glenn Donaldson and Donovan Quinn, two sons of the more druggy/cerebral Americana of late 60’s San Francisco folk, their recordings, through a handful of LPs and an EP, have often been subtle concept albums, telling the story of coming to terms with confusion and worship, with religion, with birthplace, secular existentialism and sometimes less esoteric as just to be simple love songs.

On Gorgeous Johnny, the swooning harmoniy-heavy folk club spins a yarn about…a “Johnny” of sorts, potentially a once-“fringe” member of the SgLs who was described “by most as a phony and a self-confessed dandy, the band kept him around for his undeniable fashion sense.”
Gorgeous Johnny is a sharper, clearer, more palatable record than past works; their lyrical subject matter may still yet be cryptic or curiously drawn to the spiritual, and the collaboration with fellow Cali-psyche-pop songwriter Jason Quever (of Papercuts) may still give the sound a bit of that druggy space-folk swirl – but admittedly less so then before – this still shines as their most personable presentation (if only from the lessening of foggily fuzzed vocals or guitar pedals). Thickly sweet and swimming harmonies in high wispy Davies-recalling tones, with an unmistakably Americana jangle in the conceptual mythologizing tradition of Dylan or, heck, The Band too.

Light In August
- Places
This Royal Oak based quartet has the chops for cerebral space-rock, for forceful post-rock, and even a bit of acid jazz – but on this debut album, they channel it into an interesting blend of neo-folk and indie-pop, with sunny guitar tones gleaming out in intricate spindly raindrops, sweet and soft mid-range cooing vocals weave and wander in a playful Cat Stevens manner, delivered in the world-worn wisp of a Nick Drake (but amplified in LiA’s case with their measured and poignant use of harmonies). The bass lines have a lot of character, shimmying and bouncing along their own complimenting melody while the drums are delicately pulverizing ni an intricate array of styles. Add in the flutes intertwined with grinning jangly acoustics and you’ve got yourself that good feelin’ grassy hilltop tumblin’ sing-out-if-you-wanna-sing-out vibe, but ever tinged by the spacey, psyche/jazz force.


Bull Halsey - Hot Dry Work - Deluxe
Detroit trio Bull Halsey were more than ready to build this gristly platform of smokey rockers and grinders, after years of steadily honing their mastery of jump blues, classic chug-n-pick r&b and serpentine country rock twang through banding around Michigan in various bars, juke joints and festival stages. Singer/bassist Garth Girard (of American Mars), guitarist/singer Wally Schmid (from Wally and the Tallyboys) and drummer David Oesterle (of Chrome Mali) formed the group in 2001 out of the simple passion for recreating the grimacing grit of classic blues and r&b aristocrats like Howlin Wolf and Hollywood Fats.

After the The Mighty Fists of Joe Frazier EP in 2007, the band went into Tempermill to lay down tracks for Hot Dry Work, the mere reading of the title sets an appropriate illusion of sweaty brows, blistered hands and the iron-like buldge of muscle memory shunting through these soulful grooves. Many tracks were laid down in one take, a clear indication of their readiness. Hot Dry Work is filled with that steady strutting beat of r&b, that wavy slapping bass groove of proto-rock and the buzz croon of the gitbox wailing out fiery twangs in the spirit of classic blues - but given this extra fist clenched urgency born from the trio's insuppressible roots with the even harder driving rhythms of more contemporary rock styles.


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