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Bentley’s Bandstand: Rosie Flores, Grant-Lee Phillips, Los Cenzontles with David Hidalgo & Taj Mahal

Posted By Karen Young On November 12, 2009 @ 1:36 am In Arts & Culture,Music,spotlight | No Comments

billbentley110BY BILL BENTLEY

Rosie Flores, Girl Of The Century, Bloodshot Records

rosieflores_girlofcenturyThis musician, once a rockabilly she-devil in the Screaming Sirens during the mid-‘80s, has circled the stylistic globe and continues to cause constant surprise among her legion of fans. Rosie Flores has a way of mixing up genres and confounding expectations like few others, and Girl Of The Century is yet another deep notch in her guitar, and a mighty fine one at that. Recorded with Jon Langford and the Pine Valley Cosmonauts, it has plenty of fire in the belly, but also a totally touching sensitivity on top that allows Flores to show all her strengths. She takes blues songs like “Chauffeur” and Jimmy Reed’s “I Ain’t Got You,” heart-tugging ballads like “Halfway Home” and “Dark Hour at Midnight,” and even country classics like “Little Bells” and Johnny Cash’s “Get Rhythm,” turning each of them into her very own creations. Langford is the perfect bandleader to make sure things stay on point. The no-nonsense Welshman, the Mekons’ original drummer, knows how to keep the players sharp and lethal without ever turning cold or clinical, and even throws in vocals with Flores, asking the time-honored musical question, “Who’s Gonna Take Your Garbage Out?” No joke. There aren’t many veterans as versatile or, hell, dedicated as Rosie Flores. At a time when it’s all too easy to take for granted those people who paved the way for Americana music back when it was being called things like cow-punk and shockabilly, remember that the proud history of our country’s music was made by these very same artists. And while it might be too early to officially label this lady as Girl of the Century, needless to say her name is at the very top of the ballot so far. So as they say in her home state of Texas: vote early, vote often.

Grant-Lee Phillips, Little Moon, Yep Roc Records

grantlee_littlemoonOkay, it has to be said. Little Moon is a concept album about life. It begins with “Good Morning Happiness” and ends with “The Sun Shines on Jupiter.” Granted, those titles alone aren’t enough to seal the concept deal, but you have to admit they’re a good start. Maybe more relevant is that this is Grant-Lee Phillips’ very best album, and slips under the skin with such soul-warming heart and, yes, heroism that it makes music feel important again. It also allows Phillips to reposition himself as one of America’s truly great singer-songwriters, something a lot of people believed back in his Grant Lee Buffalo days but may have quit thinking about this decade. These new creations go even past that. The musician has crossed completely over the bridge into adulthood, without ever looking back with wounded regret at what he left behind. Grant-Lee Phillips has way too much to look forward to now, and he is fairly bursting apart with anticipation and ability on these new songs. “Seal It with a Kiss,” “Nightbirds” and even one named after his daughter “Violent” point to a man who has allowed the center of himself to spread throughout his whole life. In an age where 50 is the new 30, there is nothing wrong with letting maturity drift a little farther towards the sunset. Surely there is no hurry to get there. What did bluesman Lazy Lester say before starting every set: “Have fun. It’s latter than you think.” Now it’s easier to suggest taking our time. What is the hurry, after all? Or, as Phillips sings, “Heaven knows the future’s ours, way up in the stars.” There is a song near the end of this jaw-dropping album called “Older Now,” and for all those on the back nine, it will send shivers of recognition and understanding straight through you. It is coated with a beautiful string section so our ears are pleased, while the lyrics describe aging like you’ve never heard it before. The vaudeville ditty that closes shop here makes it seem like it was only yesterday we were listening to Sopwith Camel’s “Hello Hello” and believing not only was the revolution right around the corner, we were all going to live forever. Here’s a big tip of the hat to that idea—always.

Los Cenzontles with David Hidalgo & Taj Mahal, American Horizon, LC Records

american_horizonAny album that brings Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo and roots guru Taj Mahal together has to be cause for celebration. But when it’s with Los Cenzontles and the songs on American Horizon, it’s time for a full-tilt fiesta. This band has been fashioning creative magic for twenty years, with founder Eugene Rodriguez the kind of artist who looks beyond the horizon and what can be seen to those vistas that live only in the mind. He is a seer as much as a musician, and joined by Lucina Rodriguez, Fabiola Trujillo and Hugo Arroyo these songs tell the heartrending story of American workers and all their challenges. Hidalgo has long been a master of all stringed instruments, and runs through his whole arsenal on songs like “La Luna” and “Parajo Cu,” capturing the endless beauty of Mexican-American music in a way that brings it to vivid life. There aren’t many players in Hidalgo’s realm, and whether he’s performing with Los Lobos or others, his strength of soul always shines through. Taj Mahal needs no introduction, but hearing him adapt so naturally to songs like “Suerios” and others shows just what an explorer of sound he has always been. The blues fiddle tearing off leads behind his cantina-fueled vocal is eclecticism as its most electric, and come Grammy time there is no way an album like this can miss. The real star of the show, though, is the honorable people these songs are about, the ones who rise each day faced with dilemmas beyond what most Americans have to face as they struggle to find work and stay afloat. Los Cenzontles (the Mockingbirds) have poured themselves into this music, and the way it allows us to enter the lives of others is an achievement of rare beauty, and a chance to find a way forward for us all.

Bill Bentley is a writer, musician, publicist, record producer and A&R director. He once played drums with Lightnin’ Hopkins. For more reviews and music news, go to www.sonicboomers.com

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