Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Review: Cotton Mather - Kontiki (Deluxe Edition)

I'll set the scene:

It's December, 1997 and I'm living in the Washington, D.C. area. The daily mail has brought into my greedy possession the new Cotton Mather album Kontiki, and I take it, sound unheard, over to my buddy Tony's place. Tony, a sometimes Austin resident, had introduced me to the Cotton Is King album a couple years earlier and I decided to pay back that kindness by listening to the new album with him over a few beers.

We slip the disc into the player and press the little green triangle... and are transported.

So, it is safe to say when it comes to Cotton Mather I was an "early adopter." The success the album enjoyed, at least in Britain, was heartening to see, though I don't think I appreciated the cult status the band and particularly Kontiki was developing. It only dawned on me years later just how few people had actually bought the thing when it was available, and, if the prices copies were commanding on Ebay were any indication, plenty of people were lamenting that fact.

Well, now they have the chance to get it right, because 15 years after its first release Kontiki is available again, this time in a Deluxe 2-Disc edition. It is hard to think of an album from that era more deserving of such a classy rebirth. And, classy is exactly what this package is. It starts with an attractive and informative 24-page booklet, which contains not only an overview of the recording process, with remembrances from most of those involved, but also notes on all the original tracks as well as the bonus material.

The album itself sounds as fresh as the day it was released proving, as if it needed it, its status as a seminal 1990's power pop classic is well deserved. I cannot say if the sound quality has been improved on this release as I'm not really an audiophile. Rest assured, it still kicks ass.

The bonus material is well worth the purchase price for those who already owned a copy of the original release. The demo versions of Kontiki songs are sufficiently different to make for engaging listening. Tracks like "Little Star" and an amped up version of "Altar Boy" (a track from their wonderful Hotel Baltimore EP) shine here. The inclusion of the wistful "Innocent Street" is a perfect gift for those who preferred the mostly Squeeze-ish sounds of their first record. Indeed, the bonus material is so good the disc will be listened to in its own right and not just as a curiosity.

Do yourself a favor. Buy this album.

Grade: A+

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Review: The Well Wishers - Dreaming Of The West Coast

Consistency is a great thing, especially when it comes to artistic endeavors. Musicians so often are afflicted with wild swings in mood, temperament, interest level or even taste that their work can be a roller coaster of thrilling highs and disappointing lows. As a result the artist that puts out consistently good work is something to appreciate.

Jeff Shelton's project The Well Wishers was a prototypical example of such consistency.

Until now.

Dreaming of the West Coast is not a solid body of good work consistent with the rest of The Well Wishers' catalog. No, its way better than that.

From the first note of the jaunty opener "Escape the Light" to the fade out (and fade back in) of the wonderful Sugar-esque album ender "Mother Nature" Shelton is firing on all creative cylinders here. The result is the first Well Wishers album that really doesn't lend itself to the easy comparisons (for example The Posies) that would have sufficed when reviewing the earlier albums. The influences are so organic here it winds up sounding most like itself.

Thus you can hear the glam rock beat in the track "Tonight" but the song itself is something entirely different. This high quality in the songwriting stands out throughout the album. The introspective tunes "Nothing Ever Changes Around Here" and "Truth Is Coming Home," as well as the blistering "All I Got" deserve special mention in this regard. Add a fab cover of Smoke's "Have Some More Tea" and you are in "more fun than a barrel full of monkeys" territory.

Grade: A