Blood on the Racks
Having carefully avoided video overexposure for more than a dozen years, the proprietors of Chicago’s in-surgery country/indo-rock monolith Bloodshot have just let loose a very well-packed DVD, Bloodied But Unbowed: Bloodshot Records’ Life In The Trenches. (With its performances by both the Old 97’s and Jon Langford of “Over The Cliff”, we get a strong geographical clue where those trenches lie — plus a double-shot of comparative multi-decade hair analysis.)
The many of us who have endured the pleasures of the Bloodshot adventure will be repeatedly tickled by these 31 live performances and genuinely produced videos from the likes of Robbie Fulks, Alejandro Escovedo, the Sadies, Kelly Hogan, Paul Burch, that Ryan Adams fellah, and the Waco Brothers — and come to think of it, there isn’t anybody else all that much like any of them.
Much intriguing bonus stuff kicks in at the end: mini-documentaries of life with the Meat Purveyors (scary), a Heartbreaker-era Adams road trip, and some fairly wonderful archive stuff such with Hogan, Neko Case and others appearing on the Chicago semi-cult cable dance shebang, Chic-a-Go-Go. The documentaries treat the whole Bloodshot enterprise with the whimsical good cheer with which this gang has long been associated. With photo and poster collections and whatnot added on, the whole thing adds up to more than three hours of overdue visual smirk and talent.
By coincidence, among the latest of New West Records’ extended Austin City Limits releases is Neko Case Live From Austin TX, an extension of her summer 2003 appearance on the show. Case is backed by Hogan, Jon Rauhouse and Tom Ray, demonstrating their late-blooming video existence outside of Bloodshot DVDs. She is understandably in no-messing-around mode, so there’s none of the raucous comedy of a lot of her live appearances, but the voice is full-throated and clear as always, and there are Dylan and Hank covers.
The Neko disc shows up amongst a quit strong new crop of Live From Austin TX shows, the most memorable of which is probably Outlaw Country, the first of the series to focus on an evening of song-circle-style friends rather than one performer — and the circle in play includes Waylon, Willie, Kristofferson, Billy Joe Shaver (with Eddy Shaver) and Kimmie Rhodes. Watching this Texas gang in good but loose form, ten years back, is probably enough recommendation, but the Kimmie/Willie duet on “Just One Love” is spectacular, and when Kris, Shaver, Willie and Waylon offer up successive, quite individual, counterpunching spiritual testaments in song, the stakes are raised to plain special.
Two more-than-worthwhile shows from ACL’s ’80s archives were just released as well — one with Fats Domino, still in good form and with Dave Bartholomew and Lee Allen’s crack R&B band behind him, and the other featuring Delbert McClinton, from his famously lady-pleasing “Givin’ It Up For Your Love” period.
The new version of Roy Orbison: In Dreams (Sony/BMG Legacy/Barbara Orbison Records) extends the documentary some may recall from the late, great one’s final late-’80s comeback, and it does so in a way that is to be applauded — by increasing the amount of performance footage included from all through Roy’s career, from the ’50s rockabilly days to his operatic ’60s triumphs right through the “She’s A Mystery To Me”/Traveling Wilburys end. Such retrospectives often descend into cliche; this one doesn’t, and it’s an often tragic life story that’s depicted, with often triumphant musical results along the way.
Robert Earl Keen Live At The Ryman (Koch) captures a November 2004 Nashville appearance — Keen’s first at the Ryman, surprisingly enough — filmed in widescreen format. Songs that have long marked his shows are featured (“The Road Goes On Forever”, “Merry Christmas From The Family”). Keen is primarily in storytelling mode and squarely up-front, as opposed to some of his shows which have been more band-sound oriented (though they do rock out a bit on the likes of “Amarillo Highway”). The Greencards, who’d been an opening act on the show, appear with Robert Earl at the end on “Farm Fresh Onions”.
Former BR549 co-leader Gary Bennett has been out and about with his new CD in recent months after a long absence, and now has a DVD, Gary Bennett: Inside And Out. It combines a live performance at Nashville’s 3rd & Lindsley club and a film on the making of his Human Condition CD that turns out also to be packed with thoughts and memories of BR549’s early days. Don Herron shows up to play fiddle on the live show, which works as a pretty good, if visually simple, intro to Bennett’s sharp new songs — twangy, clever, and touching as ever.
Bennett’s producer, R.S. Field, happens also to be the frequent songwriter for another Nashville twanger banger from “the other side of the alley” who’s also got a new DVD (with bonus live CD): Webb Wilder: Tough It Out (Landslide). Wilder’s beatnik hipster persona is let loose in spiels between songs at a show in Birmingham, Alabama — but when Webb and band take on a soulful song such as “If You’re Looking For A Fool” or Big Al Downing’s “Down On The Farm”, there’s no fooling to the electric attack. A bonus “Webbumentary” traces the creation of his Webb character from a combination of Mayberry Sheriff Andy Taylor, Raymond Chandler and Fess Parker/Davy Crockett references.
It’s become so easy to put together your basic concert video and mini-band documentary DVD by this point — which is good in so many democratizing ways — but it’s also a very welcome visual relief when, every once in a while, you find a concert DVD that makes a real and successful effort to give the viewer something engaging to see. That’s the case with My Morning Jacket: Okonokos (Sony), a concert film that catches the eye from its opening moments, which take us into one of those mid-Victorian-period house parties with llamas running around behind the potted palms and, as it happens, a rock concert in progress across the lawn. Camera placement, lighting and editing keep the full-length Fillmore concert interesting throughout. There’s probably no roots-referencing indie band that’s been more talked about lately than My morning Jacket; now they’ve come up with something to really look at, to boot.
The release of R.E.M.’s When The Light Is Mine: Best Of The I.R.S. Years Video Collection (EMI), reminds us that music video once actually showed promise for adding visual elements to musical ideas in a positive way, giving extra impact to the music rather than distracting from it or just hawking it. In retrospect, this classic band’s 1980s videos can still surprise — though there may have been more young guys with their shirts off in them than I’d recalled. The DVD runs longer than two hours, with the addition of early live concert and interview footage of the band that underscores the Celt-rock and roots-music elements lurking in their sound.
There’s a bit more of that “oh yes; I see the relation” angle to Pixies Acoustic: Live In Newport (Eagle Rock/Eagle Eye). “What were they doing at the Newport Folk Festival; they’re not one of those No Depression bands?” the liner notes actually ask! Frank Black, Kim Deal and company don’t really compromise with the seemingly strange environment beyond the acoustic setup; they do what they do, and it all works charmingly well — at least suggesting that only semi-screaming volume does not dilute the impact of the “not soft” parts.
Finally, The Violin Shop Concert Series Vol. 1 (Violin Shop) hardly needs apologies for being acoustic at all. It features some of the best fiddlers in bluegrass (Andy Leftwich, Aubrey Haynie, Jim Van Cleve, and Bobby Hicks himself) in a full evening of hot, sweet and swinging fiddle.