Commentary

Beyond Playlist: The Nels Cline Singers and More

The Nels Cline Singers Draw Breath (Cryptogramophone)

Sorry, vocal fans: The Nels Cline Singers don't engage in any literal singing. Instead, Cline, the guitarist for Wilco, joins bassist Devin Hoff and drummer Scott Amendola (with assistance from Wilco percussionist Glenn Kotche) on a series of instrumentals that render categorization pointless. "Caved-in Heart Blues" is subtly atmospheric, "Confection" rocks in a notably twisted fashion, and "An Evening at Pops'" touches on free jazz, straight-up skronk and plenty more during its nearly sixteen minutes of life. Given the plenitude of sounds here, a crooner would have only gotten in the way. -- Michael Roberts

Bryan Ferry Dylanesque (Virgin)

Ferry, of Roxy Music fame, was once a brilliant and idiosyncratic interpreter of other artists' material, and his 1973 version of Bob Dylan's "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" is among the greatest Dylan covers ever. But that earlier song works so well in large part because of its cheekiness -- the way it tweaks the Voice of His Generation by turning one of his most serious efforts into a loony dance song, complete with background singers who mock-weep following a line about a clown who cried in an alley. In contrast, Dylanesque is reverent in an exceedingly dull way, with Ferry treating every song like an Avalon-era b-side. Horribly disappointing. Bailed at: song five, "All I Really Wanna Do" -- because all I really wanted to do was turn the damn thing off. -- Roberts

Burning Brides Hang Love (U.N.C.L.E.)

After 2004's Leave No Ashes, issued on the V2 imprint, died an ignominious death at retail, the Burning Brides -- Dimitri Coats, Melanie Campbell and new drummer Pete Beeman -- decided to put out their next disc by themselves. The platter that resulted has an early '90s feel, but the playing and performances on tracks such as the aggressive banger "Waring Street" makes the CD a flashback worth having. -- Roberts

Spyro Gyra Good to Go-Go (Heads Up)

Remember the brand of jazz fuzak that made visiting fern bars such a dispiriting experience during the '70s and '80s? Spyro Gyra, which specialized in this style back in the day, can still churn it out with dispiriting ease. Expertly played and as empty as Nicole Richie's cranium. Bailed at: song three, "Jam Up," which features faux-reggae toasting and a laugh that recalls the bald dude who used to do those 7-Up commercials. I have seldom been more frightened. -- Roberts

Karen Dalton In My Own Time (Light in the Attic Records)

An album that came out many months ago but got lost in the shuffle, In My Own Time is a deluxe reissue of a 1971 recording by the late Dalton, whose work wound up getting lost in the shuffle during her lifetime, too. Of Cherokee descent, Dalton had a voice that was scratchy and seemingly fragile, yet throughout cuts such as the marvelously evocative "Something on Your Mind" and the banjo-and-violin driven "Katie Cruel," she exhibits a flinty strength that's positively timeless. Her eccentric singing, which is praised in liner-note essays by Nick Cave and Patti Smith collaborator Lenny Kaye, will no doubt put off some listeners. However, those who can embrace her idiosyncracy will undoubtedly be moved by this wonderfully odd artifact. -- Roberts

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts