erasing clouds

3 Music Reviews

Petra Haden, Petra Haden Sings: The Who Sell Out (Bar-None)

Is ambition always a good thing? That thought might be going through your head as you listen for the first time to Petra Haden Sings: The Who Sell Out. The album is exactly what its title suggests; this is Petra Haden (ex-That Dog) singing the entirety of The Who's classic 1967 album The Who Sell Out. The emphasis in that last sentence should be on singing - the album is completely acapella - and on entirety. She sings everything, the songs and the faux commercial jingles that run between them. She even does her best to 'sing' the instrumental passages. To say this project is ambitious is an understatement; to say it's odd is an even bigger one. That said, listening to it is an interesting experience for fans of the original album (and, to be straight about it, people who haven't heard the original need to head there first, as it's one of the best rock albums of all time). She has a clear love for the album, and is obviously having a lot of fun with this, but her version of The Who Sell Out also sounds like it's been very carefully, lovingly labored she spent countless hours trying to get all of her overlapping vocal tracks just right, to make it all sound as much like the original album as possible. And therein lies the real crux of the album - it's impossible for one voice to duplicate the sound of a rock band, so inevitably there's places where her acapella version elicits new feelings and moods from an old text. In other words, as much as you want to ignore the album or act like it's superfluous (which, in a way of course it is), there's moments that don't just catch you off guard, they floor you...moments like Haden's version of "Mary Anne With the Shakey Hand," where the feeling of the original is captured perfectly but the songs is also taken to a new place. Her singing of it colors the song a completely different shade, affecting the meaning and feeling somehow. These moments, when Haden is getting us to listen with new ears to very familiar songs, are when this eccentric project seems not just worthwhile but really significant.
- dave heaton

Bing Ji Ling, Doodle Loot Doot Doodle a Doo (Kreme Kul Recordings)

Bing Ji Ling is one interesting looking guy. Check out his album cover - he's the guy with long blonde hair, eating an ice cream cone, wearing big sunglasses, a pink shirt and a white suit with an ice cream sundae and his name painted on the back. He looks like that, his web site's got a picture of him in a hot tub with a bunch of 400-lb women, and his album's called Doodle Loot Doot Doodle a Doo? This guy's gotta be a real crazy, right, a real freakshow? Album opener "Do What I Gotta Do" definitely shows some promise of eccentricity. It's a spunky 70s funk-soul song about getting it on against all odds, with a "fuck the police" backing-vocals shout and the sweet nothings that make up the album title, sung in a warped way that veers towards P-Funk. As the album proceeds, though, you quickly realize that Bing Ji Ling is no crazy funk rebel, just a competent soul singer with a genuine love for the 70s and a handful of decent, but not stellar songs to sing. If you're into Sly Stone, Stevie Wonder, et al, you won't find this offensive to your eardrums, that's for sure, but you also won't think this is anything new. There's some real nice moments - Bing Ji Ling's singing on "Where Is Your Love?" has some real heart to it, for example. But don't expect anything as wild or imaginative as Bing Ji Ling's getup on the album cover. This is a decent replication of sweet soul sounds of the past, nothing more.
- dave heaton

The Chris Stamey Experience, A Question of Temperature (Yep Roc)

Yo La Tengo continually prove themselves to be one of the most versatile rock bands around - I challenge you to listen to any two or three of their recordings and come up with a logical argument to the contrary. Chris Stamey is legendary less for variety than for the skillful grasp over melody, songcraft, and pop-rock guitar which he has shown throughout his career, from Sneakers to the dBs to his own solo releases. Both Stamey and Yo La Tengo share a really commendable knowledge of rock and pop history, one that comes through in their own recordings as well as who they choose to collaborate with. On A Question of Temperature, they collaborate with each other; of course they're a perfect match. This is a beautiful guitar-rock album, a celebration of music past and present (the five covers range from the Yardbirds to Tift Merritt), a statement of anger at the current government (the take on Eugene McDaniels' "Compared to What" is especially incendiary), their pro-voting PSA "V.O.T.E." is less firey but still quite relevant), and an energetic jam session wherein Yo La Tengo show off their amazing knack for both atmosphere and skill, while pushing Stamey's guitar in a much less restrained direction than usual. I sometimes find Stamey's singing voice a bit plain, his gift for melody aside, yet here he proves me wrong several times, like with his really sensitive singing of Television's "Venus" or a great rendition of his own 1977 single "The Summer Sun." And Yo La Tengo's playing, on both the covers and Stamey's songs, is truly spellbinding, taking the songs to a whole new level.
- dave heaton

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