Known Johnson

September 19, 2006

Overlooked Alternatives: Dave Douglas, The Devil And Daniel Johnston, Andy Partridge, Red Sparowes

Filed under: Music,Overlooked Alternatives — Tom @ 8:19 am

Dave Douglas – Meaning and Mystery: What was once only available online is apparently now being released to brick-and-mortar stores, although I can’t imagine it’ll be too widely available outside of some specialty shops. As this is more of a “sequel,” for lack of a better word, to Strange Liberation, minus Bill Frisell on guitar and with Donny McCaslin replacing Chris Potter on sax, this isn’t a direct follow-up to last year’s amazing Keystone set and it doesn’t quite live up to the precedent set by that great album, but Douglas has been on a roll lately and it’s hard to say he really misses the mark. How is it in comparison to Strange Liberation? I’m an admitted Frisell die-hard, but I have to say that SL is not one of my favorites – and I think Meaning and Mystery is the better of the two.

Also newly available through Douglas’ Musicstem site is a new live set from Sweden that covers his Keystone material. If it’s anything like the Bimhuis set, it’ll be a must-have. Why not buy it from Douglas’ site and give the guy some extra money? (If you’re concerned about shipping, they’re fast!)

The Devil And Daniel Johnston (DVD): Some people are simply driven to their art, and some even through madness produce fascinating works of beauty. Such is the case with singer/songwriter (and artist) Daniel Johnston, who battles numerous psychological problems, not the least of which are devastating manic-depression and schizophrenia, to produce endearingly odd songs about lost love and struggles between good and evil. He’s an aquired taste, to be sure – Johnston sings with a lisping lilt that often defies rhythmic structure, but for those that can listen through his quirks, it’s clear that he’s singing from the heart.

This film follows Johnston in his hometown as he lives with his parents and creates his music and art, utilizing a lifetime’s worth of audio and film that Johnston and family and friends were lucky enough to capture. The documentary took the Best Director and Best Documentary (Audience Award) at Sundance and the San Francisco Independent Film Festival, respectively.

Andy Partridge – Fuzzy Warbles 7 & 8 and Collector’s Album pre-Order: XTC mainman Andy Partridge has been releasing pairs CDs of XTC demos for about three years now and is set to conclude the project with numbers 7 and 8, capping it off with a special box built to hold all 8 discs along with a book of essays by the man and an additional, shorter disc of leftover tracks. For big XTC fans these are a must-have – among the alternate versions, there are to be found a number of tracks that never made it to official albums, many of which you’ll be scratching your head as to why they didn’t. Overall, for the fan, they make a hell of a fun listening experience – these demos are, for the most part, a significant cut above most demos – neither too low quality to enjoy nor too similar to their official album brethren. And now’s the time to act – the previous discs have been knocked down to significantly cheap prices to make buying the whole set feasible. And if you’ve already bought any combination of the previous 6, have no fear as they’ve got you covered – you can buy any combination to fill your needs. There’s only one place to buy this set this way, however, and that’s at Andy’s official site – preorders for this set begin this week: http://www.ape.uk.net/acatalog/compact_discs.html

Red Sparowes – Every Red Heart Shines Toward The Sun: The second album from this instrumental metal quintet is a conceptual piece aiming at telling the the story of China’s great sparrow campaign, part of the Great Leap Forward. In the 50s, Mao Zedong initiated a pest-killing program that he believed would lead to much more productive harvests. Field workers would bang pots and pans to keep sparrows flying until they died. You can probably imagine the outcome – sure, it worked for one year, but then, with all the sparrows dead, locusts swarmed unabated and caused a great famine.

Anyway, high-concept or not, the music is instrumental so it doesn’t really matter, does it? Red Sparowes are a heady mix of the paranoid blast of Neurosis, Pelican, and Isis, minimalist repetitive pattern obsessions of Phillip Glass and Steve Reich, and even touches of 80s goth guitar hero Robert Smith of the Cure here and there – and manages to shoehorn in a complete metal oddity, pedal steel guitar. Their previous album, At the Soundless Dawn, has grown to be a favorite of mine over the past year – I sure hope this one will follow suit.

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