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Five quick hits: Audrey Auld, Grant-Lee Phillips, Peter Case, Tom Fisch, and The String Cheese Incident

An album about the Auld country.

Audrey Auld
Billabong Song
[Reckless Records (Released December 1, 2009)]

Just having been to Australia, this new release from Australian songstress Audrey Auld is a true delight for me to hear. The six tracks here represent Australian folk songs performed by Auld on her US tours that have since become audience requests, including the unofficial Australian anthem “Waltzing Mathilda.” Here, Auld combines it with Eric Bogle’s classic “And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda,” a beautiful and epic war ballad, and Auld’s original “Australia (Paint You A Picture)” to form an amazing and vivid musical triptych, illustrative of the land about which Auld sings and calls home. Her full and lustrous contralto is perfectly suited for this type of old-style balladeering and is stirring in the time-honored way of an authentic troubadour. Auld completes the short-form CD with a rousing drinking song “Pub With No Beer,” Slim Dusty’s gorgeous “Camooweal,” and a really wonderful finish with Dorothea Mackellar’s poem “My Country” in which Auld’s wonderful spoken-word Australian accent brings the country and its culture to life. [www.audreyauld.com]

—Susie Glaze (Los Angeles, CA)

Phillips’s Little Moon

Grant-Lee Phillips
Little Moon
[Yep Roc Records YEP 2203 (2009)

The opener “Good Morning Happiness” and the closer “The Sun Shines on Jupiter” are essentially the same music with different words. The sound owes a great deal to the “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” vein of the Beatles mixed with something more relaxed. “It Ain’t the Same Old Cold War Harry” has a similar 2/4 stomp. Much of the rest of the album has a ’70 revival feel, shot through as it is with ringing acoustic guitar and organ, and electric guitar fills dropped in for emphasis. Grant-Lee Phillips’s voice is a husky tenor that climbs seamlessly into a falsetto, and his lyrics do not immediately reveal their meanings. The stories in these songs unfold with repeated listenings, in part because you’ll be distracted by the inventiveness of the arrangements. [www.grantleephillips.com]

—Bill Chaisson (Trumansburg, NY)

Peter Case’s Wig!

Peter Case
Wig!
[Yep Roc Records (2010)]

The past couple of years have hit many of us hard, but none more than Peter Case, who experienced a near-fatal heart condition that left the uninsured musician with a mountain of debt (thankfully pared down considerably through a series of all-star benefit concerts). Wig!, his first release following these traumas, crystallizes a lot of the nervous tension that has come from his and the nation’s economic uncertainties through a joyous set of raw, dirty (mostly) electric blues and rock, cranked out with Memphis guitar master Ron Franklin and X drummer D.J. Bonebrake. Although the topics are sometimes grim, Case brings an ebullient enthusiasm to rockers like “I Ain’t Got No Dough” and “House Rent Jump.” Case channels Muddy Waters on the slow, sinuous “My Kind of Trouble” and veers into spooky Creedence with “Somebody Told the Truth” and quotes Roger McGuinn’s electric twelve string for “The Words in Red.” The disc closes with the mournful acoustic blues “House Rent Party.” On Wig! Case works through his demons and the result is some of his best writing, singing, and playing to date. [www.petercase.com]

—Michael Parrish (San Jose, CA)

Tom Fisch’s October Boy.

Tom Fisch
October Boy
[October Boy Records (2009)]

October Boy is way down home, yet headed up that road to the best of country music. Tom Fisch’s folksy tenor has an extremely subtle twang reminiscent of Haggard and Frizzell, and he writes songs with strong melodies and good hooks, generating a warmth that is sadly lacking from most of today’s Nashville fare. In his charming “Early Evening Waltz” he sings of sleeping dogs on the front porch and a white cloud floating in a “salmon-colored sky.” And Fisch does it in a way that isn’t corny but just plain feel-good and feel-right. “Carolina Blue Sky Day” is one of those songs that cry out to be sung in a car entering a specific part of the United States, a la “Rocky Mountain High.” He takes John Prine’s quirky yet profound poetry in “Speed of the Sound of Loneliness” and puts his own stamp on it. I would bet that imprint stems from some very personal stories and life experiences—the stuff of real music. [www.tomfisch.com]

—Ellen Geisel (Ballston Lake, NY)

The spider web is made of mozzarella.

The String Cheese Incident
Trick or Treat: Best of the String Cheese Incident
[SCI Fidelity (2009, rec. 1998-2004), 2-CD]

Like their northeastern colleagues Phish, Colorado’s String Cheese Incident has often used Halloween as an opportunity to don a musical “costume,” covering material by other artists. This year the group released a nine-CD set chronicling the most memorable of these events, as well as the companion two-CD “best of” set from the same shows reviewed here for those with shallower pockets and/or shorter attention spans. The covers range from the faithful (a letter-perfect rendition of the Police chestnut “Walking on the Moon”) to the loony (a loose cover of the Doors tune “L.A. Woman”). A Las Vegas show from 2003 found the group switching genres from the Beatles (“Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite) to hip hop artist Nelly (a raunchy “Hot in Herre”), followed by Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” and winding up with an energized collaboration with Keller Williams on his “Freeker By the Speaker.” The group shuffles through Paul Simon’s “Under African Skies” and a bluesy version of Cat Stevens’ “Peace Train.” They show off their jazz chops for a 2001 NYC version of Miles Davis’ “So What” and venture into R&B pop with “Get Down Tonight.” Although some touring may be in the works for 2010, String Cheese Incident currently remains on hiatus, so this set or the larger box should help to whet the appetites of their many fans in the meantime. [www.stringcheeseincident.com]

—Michael Parrish (San Jose, CA)

© 2010 DriftwoodMagazine.com, All rights reserved.

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