Daniel Lanois: Shine (Anti)
Best known as a producer for such artists as U2, Dylan, the Neville Brothers, Peter Gabriel, Emmylou Harris, Robbie Robertson and others, Daniel Lanois is also a fascinating and quite idiosyncratic artist himself. From the first minute of the first track on this, his third solo album, you know it's him: the dreamy atmospheric ambience, the unusual sonic touches, the treated drum track, the fuzzed guitar — this is imaginative record-making in action. Not quite as mysterioso as his 1989 brilliant debut, Acadie, nor as charged as the 1993 For the Beauty of Winona, Lanois latest is nonetheless a beautiful and charming work that has an appealing simplicity at its core, but also a lot going on within it's relatively straightforward folk-pop structures. Lanois plays nearly all of the instruments on the CD, and the arrangements are varied and imaginative, dominated by guitars of every kind, from pedal steel to acoustics. His high, breathy vocals fit the mood of his songs perfectly, and he layers those tracks effectively, too. Emmylou Harris turns up on “I Love You,” and Bono brings some of his characteristic passion to the moving “Falling At Your Feet,” but this is obviously an intensely personal album, and the gorgeous steel-driven instrumentals “Transmitter” and “J.J. Leaves L.A.” are as emotionally involving as his lyric-driven songs. Take a chance on this one.
Producer: Daniel Lanois. The “Recording Team”: Adam Samuels, Jennifer Tipoulow, Mark Howard, Wayne Lorenz. No studios listed, but it was recorded at locations from Mexico to Dublin, including L.A.
— Blair Jackson
Lucinda Williams: World Without Tears (Lost Highway)
The unimpeachably authentic Lucinda Williams releases another rootsy, sultry gem this month. World Without Tears was produced, recorded and mixed by Mark Howard, whose credits include beautiful engineering work on Emmylou Harris' Wrecking Ball, which was produced by Daniel Lanois. Williams' album exudes edge and intimacy, as well as atmosphere. She recorded almost all of the tracks live with her band: Doug Pettibone, guitar; Jim Christie, drums, percussion, keyboards; and Taras Prodaniuk, bass. The feel is definitely similar to what it's like hearing them live in a club — the perfect setting for Williams' Western-tinged rock ‘n’ roll poetry.
Produced/engineered/mixed by Mark Howard. Studio: Real Music (L.A.). Mastering: Joe Gastwirt/Oceanview Digital (West L.A.).
— Barbara Schultz
Camper Van Beethoven: Cigarettes & Carrot Juice (Cooking Vinyl)
If the words “Take the skinheads bowling…” mean anything to you, then you were definitely listening to college radio, or maybe even attending the same college I went to in the mid-1980s. Back then, at UC Santa Cruz (Calif.), the lines were pretty blurry between punks, cowpunks, hippies, white rastas and retro swingers or rockers of all sorts. We were all posers, but really earnest at the same time. All of which gives you some idea of where Camper's music was coming from. The Cigarettes and Carrot Juice box includes five albums' worth of the material recorded before their minor modern rock hit with a cover of “Pictures of Matchstick Men,” before their contract with Virgin, and before they broke up and lead singer David Lowery kept their date with Virgin by forming Cracker. Some of these early, homemade recordings are pretty low-fi, but it's all spirited, sarcastic, countrified, Eastern European folk, punk, reggae fun. All of the members, especially on the first couple of records, are very talented multi-instrumentalists with broad musical interests. For the initiated, these tracks will bring back memories; for fans of their better-known work, or perhaps of Cracker, these will be newly uncovered treasures.
Producers: none credited. Engineers: Dave Gill, Tom Fox, Wally Sound, John Morand, David Lowery, Woody Nuss. Studios: Samurai Sound Lab (Davis, Calif.), Fox Studios (Felton, Calif.), BBC Studios (London, UK), Bay Street House, Sound of Music and Homework Audio (all Santa Cruz, Calif.). Mastering: none credited.
— Barbara Schultz
Ry Cooder and Manuel Galban: Mambo Sinuendo (Nonesuch)
So you're probably thinking…“Cooder…Cuban guitarist Galban…cut at Egrem in Havana — Buena Vista Social Club Volume, 2, right?” Wrong! It's hard to know how to classify this loose, funky, largely instrumental album. The percussion and some of the rhythms are unmistakably latin, but there's an overlay of late-'50s and early '60s pop sensibilities to the whole affair — there are times Cooder and Galban sound like The Ventures after a night of free-flowing pina coladas. It's an intoxicating throwback — guitar effects are mostly limited to reverb, tremolo and the occasional whammy bar; it's as if feedback and fuzz tone still haven't been discovered! But for every breezy tune that sounds like it's floating out of a little seaside bar on the Caribbean circa 1958, or like it should be on the soundtrack of a 1960 Bruce Brown surfing film, there are others that offer up complex and challenging rhythm changes and unusually juxtaposed textures — there is some seriously weird stuff on this CD, and that's a good thing. Cooder's contributions throughout show his imagination, his generosity and his versatility. One second he's laying down some classic Waikiki steel, the next he's got an R&B comping thing going behind Galban's lead, or he's switched to a perfectly cheesy organ; he does it all. And then there's the track “Secret Love,” one of the most beautiful instrumentals you'll ever hear, with hints of Hawaiian slack-key and other flavors blended masterfully. Breathtaking!
Producer: Cooder. Engineer: Jerry Boys. Studio: Egrem (Havana). Additional recording: Capitol and Sound City (L.A.). Mastering: Tom Leader and Jerry Boys at Livingston (London).
— Blair Jackson