Short Takes: Ry Cooder, T Bone Burnett’s Speaking Clock Revue And More

Videos by American Songwriter

Ry Cooder
Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down
[Rating: 4 stars]

Who needs Lewis Black, Bill Maher or Jon Stewart when you have Ry Cooder? The famed slide guitarist and world music enthusiast releases his most incisive and sardonic political album, mixing wry observations on bankers, politicians and war mongers into upbeat, even jovial rock, blues, Latin, gospel, Tex-Mex, folk and reggae with more hooks and choruses than any of those standup guys ever could. Twenty pages of lyrics help the cause as Cooder turns into a sardonic, crotchety old coot whose working class messages are enhanced by sharp musical chops honed over a wildly eclectic four decade career.

Katharine Whalen & Her Fascinators
Madly Love
(Five Head)
[Rating: 2 1/2 stars]

There’s none of the “hot” jumpin’ jive jazz of the Squirrel Nut Zippers to be found on this set of quirky indie pop, sung with offbeat charm by that band’s chanteuse. Whalen’s controlled, low key voice sounds occasionally like a combination of Marianne Faithfull and Patsy Cline on a 60’s influenced set of songs elbowed outside of the ordinary by her idiosyncratic singing and oblique words that are as impossible to predict as her wavering inflection. Credit her band, The Fascinators, for taking musical paths least followed that are perhaps easier to admire than enjoyable to hear.

Jackie DeShannon
When You Walk in the Room
[Rating: 3 1/2 stars]

To those who look askew at an album of stripped down, rearranged versions of DeShannon’s greatest hits as nothing more than a cash generating gimmick to introduce these classics to an 00’s audience we say “put a little love in your heart.” The tunes—mostly self or co-penned — are timeless, her voice is strong and committed if not particularly distinctive and the acoustic based musicians play with subtle authority, supporting yet staying out of the way of the memorable melodies. Selections such as “Breakaway”–once a simplistic fizzy pop ditty– are reduced to their rootsy, often ballad tempo basics and given a pensive new lease on life. One excellent new track, beautifully recorded audio and a few obscurities make this low key collection from one of the rock and pop’s finest songsmiths an intimate and revealing listen.

T Bone Burnett and Various Artists
The Speaking Clock Revue
(Shout! Factory)
[Rating: 3 stars]

This compilation of highlights from some NYC concerts to benefit music education in public schools predominantly features roots musicians from Burnett’s extensive production history. Veteran picker Ralph Stanley shares time with grizzled journeymen such as Costello, Mellencamp and Gregg Allman, as well as relative youngsters Neko Case, My Morning Jacket’s Jim James (or Yim Yames as he’s billed) and Karen Elson to partake in a mostly rousing but frustratingly short 45 minute disc. On the down side, all the amazing backing players can’t make Jeff Bridges a quality singer-songwriter, and trotting out Elton John and Leon Russell to plod through one of the underwhelming songs from their Burnett-produced collaboration smacks of a commercialism that leaves this well intentioned project somewhat tainted.

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