Recording his jaunty folk since the mid-60s, cult legend Michael Hurley may be most familiar to today's indie crowd for having his song "Sweedeedee" covered by Cat Power and his 20th album,
The Ancestral Swamp,
released on Andy Cabic (Vetiver) and Devendra Banhart's Gnomonsong label in September. You don't have to know those first 19 albums to enjoy
though. Its rambling tales of gamblers, cemeteries, and other sources of the blues are fairly timeless, and Hurley's off-kilter warble and guitar plucking will remind some listeners of the equally quirky Vic Chesnutt. Following several tapings for NPR programs last year, Hurley blows into the World Cafe Live alongside Meara O'Reilly (ex-Feathers) and the ever-quiet Ida.
- Doug Wallen
Islands sprang from the remnants of the Unicorns, a madcap bunch from Montreal who made one excellent hodgepodge of an album before becoming extinct. Helmed by Nick Thorburn, Islands does not lack ambition. The new
still features the baroque, string-laden touches of their debut, 2005's
Return to the Sea,
and comparisons to Elephant 6 bands such as Olivia Tremor Control, Elf Power and, especially, Of Montreal are inevitable. But it veers into dramatic Bowie-esque glam rock and contains several multi-part epics, including one, the Martin Heidegger-inspired "In the Rushes" that is almost Queen-like. The Motown beat of "Life in Jail" shows their playful side (and calls to mind Arcade Fire's "Wake Up"), but that's a detour among the weightier tracks. Playful or pretentious? We find out tonight which side triumphs.
- Steve Klinge
There are few jazz singers as rich, wry and sexy as Canadian vocalist Holly Cole. Oh, and daring. When Scarlett Johansson was still in grade school - long before her brand-new album of Tom Waits covers - Cole had already recorded a set of Waits' best,
Years before Nellie McKay brought oddball ire and fire to standards as well as her own tunes, Cole was using her supple voice and irony-drenched lyrics to do much the same. In fact, jazz as a genre can't hold the still young veteran Cole. That's probably why, on her new self-titled CD, she and her tiny bands can jump from drone (a creeping cover of Jobim's "Waters of March") to cheery novelty tunes ("Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries," and "Alley Cat Song") to dashing takes on soundtrack standards like Henry Mancini's "Charade."
Holly Cole can't be held to one spot or sound.
- A.D. Amorosi