2002 was a boring year, and I’m glad it’s over, but just because it was boring doesn’t mean I’m finished talking about it. In fact, some good things happened; let’s see if we can remember any of them. Nah, the hell with it.
Oh, OK for one thing, quite a few interesting new faces popped up: the Strokes, Nora Jones, Lightning Bolt, Liz Janes, Vic Thrill, Bleu, Shari Elf, the Shins, the Hives -we arguably had a very strong crop of rookies.
Kay Hanley (of the now-defunct Letters to Cleo) put out a fun solo record (“Cherry Marmalade” on Zoe); as did Amy Fairchild (“Mr. Heart” on So Fair); another old friend, Eben Portnoy (formerly of No Sientos) debuted his new band, the Napkins (you can get their latest homemade project, “I’ve Been Wading”, through email@example.com.) Boston buddies Bleu and Ramona Silver also made worthy contributions (“Redhead” on Aware and “Death By Candy” on Fingerprints, respectively.)
My pal Dylan from Instant Karma in Orleans put me on to a wonderful jazz group from the Hartford area fronted by Warren Byrd and David Chevan, whose album “This Is the Afro-Semitic Experience” was one of the most enjoyable listens I had last year, not to mention pretty much the only contemporary jazz release that really intrigued me.
These guys add steel guitar (frequently in an almost southern gospel/sacred steel frame of mind) to the usual sax-piano-string bass-drums routine, which gets even more interesting when circumventing the considerable stylistic territory they’ve staked out of jazz-to-reggae-to-klezmer. Luckily, the musicians have the taste, wit, and talent to keep it all swinging without getting too pretentious. (Warning: this one’s probably only available on cape at Instant Karma -which is on Rt. 6 in Orleans, roughly across from the Blockbuster/Staples lot -or perhaps through their website, www.chevan.addr.com.) It’s well worth tracking down.
Some of the old timers came through with some good stuff, too, like Beck, James Taylor, Los Lobos, the Flatlanders, Flaming Lips, Of Montreal, Komeda, Daniel Johnston, and Bonnie Raitt. Jane Siberry released a “Best Of” collection on Rhino called “Love is Everything” that makes a reasonable attempt at condensing her large and interesting catalog (and also may help us get through a whole year with nothing new from local fave Patty Larkin.) Even Sir Paul McCartney’s latest debacle has a couple of nice moments on it, particularly the lovely “Riding to Jaipur”, festooned with psychedelia and Indian instruments as if to provide a fitting send-off to dear Sir George.
The treat of the year for me, though, wasn’t even released this year -or last year, either. I admit, I’m really late on this one -it was released in 2000. Still, you must be made aware immediately that the Muffs’ “Hamburger” (Sympathy for the Record Industry), which is basically an odds-and-ends comp, is as good as any of their regular releases (and, in fact, much better than their last, ’99’s “Alert Today, Alive Tomorrow”), and that means it’s a total blast. If you don’t know them, imagine a cross between the Shirelles and the Ramones, including real melodies and personality, plus considerable propulsion.
I would be re-miss if I didn’t mention that the Muffs are Mrs. Kelp’s new favorite group. Her old favorite group was the Beatles, who actually managed to hold down the job for about thirty-five years. (Mrs. Kelp has never been fickle or flighty when it comes to matters of great importance. I still remember the first words she ever said to me, way, way back toward the dawning of time. And what she was wearing. And what happened the next day, too; but it’s private.)
So, one reason I’m telling you that this Muffs album is indispensable is because I’ve been instructed to, and here at Kelp Manor, we’ve learned the importance of following instructions. But it’s also because the record is quite brilliant right through while most of the rest of this list is really just brilliant in spots. Just for the record, the other guys who keep it up the longest are James Taylor (if you like James Taylor), Lightning Bolt (if you like having your head explode in an extremely noisy and riotous manner), the Strokes (if you dig that retro, minimalist schtick), Nora Jones (whose warm, understated singing and minimal arrangements arguably overcome inconsistent songwriting), and Warren Byrd and David Chevan (if you like jazz.)
Locally, I saw great shows from Zoe Lewis and Jennifer Kimball, and more fine work from young up-and-comers like Lovewhip, the Mayocks, Earth Junior, Steve Wood (whose Sunday afternoon open house shows at the Prodigal Son in Hyannis are reputed to be good fun), and Philo Rockwell King III, whose merchandising is as much fun as his show (which is much fun.)
Why, only the other night I saw a new band from Providence called the Eyesores who were remarkably interesting and original. Their instrumentation includes viola, bass, accordion, and french horn, and they’re creating a hybrid of Astor Piazzolla and what? maybe the Velvets again? Whatever it is, it’s not boring. I don’t know- there might still be hope for 2002, retrospectively.
Ditto for ’03 -keep your fingers crossed.