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Mo' Reddick blues

Plus: Russ Nasset, Jane's Addiction & New Pornographers



Paul Reddick and the Sidemen
NorthernBlues Music

“I had a job once delivering trout to a fish processing plant in the Guelph jail, and I got to be fairly good friends with a lot of the inmates. I asked one guy what he might do when he got out. He said, ‘Well, my brother offered me a job doing drywall, but I’m a jewel thief.’” Paul Reddick recalls this anecdote to explain the theme behind the down and dirty blues stomp, “I’m a Criminal,” on his album Rattlebag. The story typifies the thoughtfulness Reddick puts into his original compositions. Rather than regurgitating well-worn “my baby left me” blues, Reddick draws inspiration from everything from prison buddies to Eudora Welty stories, leading to decidedly modern blues. Reddick hasn’t forgotten his roots though, as he’s dusted off some old-school underground blues recordings in the Library of Congress for inspiration. The result of such mindful songwriting is one of the best blues albums of this young century. The Sidemen specialize in a juke-joint boogie that you can literally feel in tunes such as “Pinegum,” which hints just enough at Delbert McClinton’s “B-Movie Boxcar Blues.” Reddick’s vocals are alternately tough and tender, but the Sidemen’s secret weapon is his harmonica mastery. It’s hard to “bag” the juke joint sound on a studio album, but the Sidemen have done it well. (Mike Keefe-Feldman)

Russ Nasset and the Revelators
Russ Nasset and the Revelators

While a live Russ Nasset and the Revelators show in Missoula tends to be comprised almost entirely of rockabilly, the band’s first release finds the Revelators mixing several styles skillfully. There’s plenty of rockabilly and honky-tonk on the album, to be sure, but the Revelators also offer more pop-ish arrangements, a dash of doo-wop, some swingin’ blues and a couple of ’60s-era surf tributes. More so than their live shows, which tend to consist mainly of covers, the all-originals album shows off the versatility of the band, and of Nasset’s songwriting talent. A special treat is the guest appearance of blues master Cash McCall on vocals and a mean guitar on “Mama’s Cookin’.” McCall and Nasset (Russ, not to be confused with his son, Sam, on guitar) banter back and forth, Louis Armstrong/Bing Crosby-style (note that neither comes off sounding as white-bread as Crosby). The bass throughout is supplied by Ronnie Mason, a longtime Nasset friend and bass player who died unexpectedly in 2001. The album is dedicated to him, and if there’s a honky-tonk heaven, then surely he and the other angels are diggin’ on these tracks blasting from the no-quarters-necessary juke box, between bar fights in which no one gets hurt. (Mike Keefe-Feldman)

Jane’s Addiction

There’s not a single track on Strays as good as “Jane Says,” “Standing in the Shower… Thinking,” or “Stop!,” yet most of it is at least on par with “Been Caught Stealing.”

Strays is built in the mold (and shadow) of Ritual de lo Habitual, but in the 12 years since Ritual and the first Lollapalooza, the Addiction sound has been seized by dozens of bands. Now, after a decade-plus hiatus, the band can only imitate, not replicate, its own sound. There’s a little more synth, a little more programming—an effort to blend into the hipness of electronica. There are fewer strings, fewer cool, languid breaks in the tempo.

Three tracks, “The Riches,” “Wrong Girl” and “Everybody’s Friend,” do the Jane’s legacy justice, while the others just play it safe. Dave Navarro’s guitar solos are great but expected, there’s nothing spontaneous about Stephen Perkins’ percussion, and new bassist (why are founding bassists so rarely included in the reunions?) Chris Chaney only makes the listener wish they could have convinced Flea to take part. As for Farrell, the boundless hubris that fueled his band in its heyday has been reduced to mere haughtiness. (Jed Gottlieb)

The New Pornographers
Electric Version
Matador Records

Canada is like an American version of Sweden. A place for everything, and everything it its place; it’s like everything is cozier, cleaner and tidier.

Canadian pop music is often the same way: familiar in form, flawless in execution, and downright calculated in its catchiness. Mercenary, even. Electric Version is over-the-top catchy, but it sounds less like the work of a band than of an extraordinarily talented pop arranger—that’s head Pornographer Carl Newman—who happens to have an equally talented group of musicians at his disposal to help him hang flesh on the baroque pop extravaganzas swirling around in his mind.

The New Pornographers’ last release, 2000’s Mass Romantic, made pop perfection sound much more exciting. Mass Romantic lacked some of the confidence of Electric Version, with the result that the countless small surprises yielded on first and subsequent listens sounded much more, well, surprising. You never knew what was around the next corner, but the band sounded eager to make you look.

Not to say that Electric Version is without its revelations; the unexpected shape-note coda on “Testament to Youth in Verse” alone is worth the price, a shimmering polyphonic spree that builds in intensity until it rings in your head like every bell in town clanging at once. Mostly, though, surprises are fewer this time around. The power-pop crunches with an urgency the oblique lyrics don’t really bear out (cf. “Letter from an Occupant” on Mass Romantic); Neko Case’s vocals steal the show on the tracks where she appears; everything nestles together just so, like Russian dolls. (Andy Smetanka)

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