Archived Arts & Entertainment

Three from the vault

By Chris Cooper

I’m beginning to notice a relationship between the acquisition of “new” used CDs at my place of employment and my need to write in a “multiple CD” review format. Coincidence? I think not. But this week I was reminded, for the umpteenth time, that there is indeed a veritable smorgasbord of great music waiting to be heard out there.


So, here are a few “discoveries.” If they’re not new to you, well, lucky you. If you haven’t heard a few of these artists, consider this an invitation to tickle the aural receptors (those floppy things on either side of your noggin) with some fresh noise.

M. Ward: Post-War

Really didn’t know what to think of it at first. And after a few listens, I’m still not quite sure what to think of it, but I do know this: “Chinese Translation” is one of the stranger and more beautiful things I’ve heard in quite a while.

Ward’s affinity for dousing his vocals in cavernous reverb and enveloping them in blurry washes of lo-fi instrumentation is obvious in every track on Post-War. But at the end, it’s the fact that he’s an incredibly gifted songwriter that stands out above all the “indie” affectations.

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At times reminiscent of John Lennon channeling Louis Armstrong with Brian Wilson as the medium, M. Ward manages to leave his footprints all over the map without once getting lost, whether it’s the Marc Bolan-esque rave up of “Magic Trick” or the totally unexpected surf/psychedelia/folk instrumental “Neptune’s Net.”

Forget that Jack Johnson cat — M. Ward works the laid back, soft-spoken singer/songwriter thing with an almost disarming ease and intelligence, and does so without sounding like he’s writing the same song again and again.

The Damnwells: Bastards Of The Beat

A while back I picked up one of those “Red Ink Distribution” CD samplers, and somewhere around the middle of the confused mess of styles and sounds such samplers tend to be was this wonderfully dreamy and sad song called “Sleepsinging.”

Actually, I wasn’t sure what the song was called, or who the band was, because I had long since lost the sleeve that contained any and all band/song info.

But I did some research, revealing the band to be The Damnwells. And just a few days ago, their 2003 release, Bastards Of The Beat, materialized in the used section at IYE. Weird.

The Replacements/Paul Westerberg comparisons are nearly unavoidable, but thankfully The Damnwells sound a helluva lot more sober and focused than the ‘Mats, and to my delight “Sleepsinging” turned out to be just one of many groovy tunes on the album.

Lyrically, you gotta wonder just how many bad relationships songwriter and vocalist Alex Dezen has seen, but the fruits of his labors are in the melancholy imagery of “Kiss Catastrophe” and “The Lost Complaint.” And for all the despondency apparent in the words, the music is a sly mix of jangle, pop and crunch, with a sense of space and texture that’s at times ethereal and haunting, sometimes earthy and visceral. Definitely a new favorite.

Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings: Dap-Dippin’ With...

This one caught my attention by virtue of complete misunderstanding. I’d heard Dap-Dippin’ With ... in passing before, and cataloged it away in the “good old-fashioned funk/soul” category of my music memory bank.

Noticing that the album was on the computer at work, I gave it another spin the other day and was blown away by the sheer ... well, awesomeness of it. Why had I never paid attention to this “classic” album before? Then I recognized a mutated version of Janet Jackson’s “What Have You Done For Me Lately,” rendered with horns, a smoking rhythm section and more soul than the original could ever have mustered. “I never knew that was a cover tune ...” I thought to myself.

Well, it actually was a cover — but it was Sharon Jones covering Janet, not vice versa. Upon closer inspection, what initially seemed to be a “lost classic” turned out to be a newer recording by a singer and band with a miraculous ability to turn the clocks back to a bygone era of soul music.

Right down to the CD packaging, let alone the recording itself, these guys have the vintage vibe so totally nailed it’s stupefying. It’s as if you can hear the sweat of a band laying it down live in the studio back in 1969 — but these guys laid it down live in 2002. There’s not a bad tune, half-cocked groove or dropped beat anywhere on Dap-Dippin’ With ...

In comparison to what R&B has become over the last few decades, an album like this is an almost painful reminder of just how good it used to be. But with a band like this out there, as well as the rest of the Daptone Records band roster, there sure is hope for a funkier tomorrow.

(Chris Cooper can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

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