GHOSTS AND VODKA
Precious Blood
(Sixgunlover)
**1/2

Falling somewhere between engaging and assuasive, Ghosts and Vodka delivers instrumental guitar rock too repetitive and dull to be genuinely moving, yet too jangly and technically complex to soothe, or fall into a "mood" function. Occasional moments of beauty are overshadowed by a mid-range drone that tends to saturate the otherwise promising album. After a few spins you will inevitably find yourself head-nodding to the driving guitar rhythms and mathematical tech-rock atmospheres, but Ghosts and Vodka's ingenuity is most notable in the hypnotically gentle guitar repetitions and swirling organic/electronic noises of infrequent softer cuts, like "Conversational all-stars." The problem is not in the players' execution, but more in their collective focus, or lack thereof. The all-star cast includes former members of Joan of Arc, Victor from Cap'n Jazz, and Tetsuo drummer Scott Shellhamer, but unlike their prior investments, these tried-and-true heroes create music that feels more like exercising or masturbating. While both have their obvious benefits, neither can provide a true sense of relationship. CORIANTON HALE

THALIA ZEDEK
Been Here and Gone
(Matador Records)
***1/2

Thalia Zedek's androgynous slurred croon takes the fore on her debut solo album, Been Here and Gone. "You held me so fucking tight," she sings on "Strong," punching at the word fuck not out of defiance but because the need behind it is the real profanity. As the co-guitarist and singer of the great underappreciated Come, Zedek was cut from a very different cloth than her fellow indie rockers. Her voice has a pained haze of well-traveled troubles at its core, growing ragged around the edges. She sings like an old bluesman. The dark, dissonant storm of Come is subdued a bit here, with piano and viola adding tension in place of bombast. It works splendidly, with a spare, eloquent texture that still feels full. Come guitarist Chris Brokaw plays on every track, but it's definitely Zedek's own vision at play. Her cover of Leonard Cohen's "Dance Me to the End of Love" is a Gypsy reel that recalls the Dirty Three. As with the rest of Been Here and Gone, the pleasure is sublimely linked to the pain and disappointment Zedek draws upon. NATE LIPPENS

VARIOUS ARTISTS
Nuggets 2 Original Artyfacts from the British Empire & Beyond
(Rhino)
****

MODDAMMIT? SORRRRRRY! There won't NO cheekier way to open this mofo! Okay... first, do y'all know the Nuggets series? It's a buncha compilations that began comin' about '72 and managed to hold open the doors to "fergotten" stateside '60s pop and garage racketeers whose action WON'T sickly "legandarized" like the Doors and Hendrix, or euthanized via oldies radio. Well, a couple years back, Rhino took the best offa the original Nugs series and squished 'em inna boxed set... they done did it again with Nuggets 2! However, insteada diggin' in U.S. back catalogs, Rhino fetched tracks from all 'round the globe... makin' N2 muy grande especial! Indeed, especial as N2 is, generally comprising unknown bands, there's a few knowners (the Move, Small Faces, and others)... but I doubt boomers know the Red Squares or Winston's Fumbs! Tho' when YOU hear 'em, you'll wonder WHY they ain't famous! Dig, N2 is crammed SOLID with them kinda tracks, all datin' '64-'69... WAIT... even as mosta the tracks DO date "sixties," don't figger this for proto-hippie wankeroo shit... mosta this music was fueled by AMPHETAMINES, booze, maybe a wittle "hash," but rarely LSD and L-U-V. Therefore, expect loads of beat/garage... um, excited kids gettin' BENT fucked on Chuck Berry, 12 baR&Blooze, and freakbeat... which is kinda "mature" beat music sans early beat's saccharine sweetness, often laced with undertones! Also included is a GIANT book with schweet "let's explain this shit" notes, loads of COLOR band shots, repro'd adverts, and sleeve pics too. My only "text" issue is the commonly misrepresented nature of "Mod" as it was perpetuated by then contemporary pop culture. (They called all hip teens Mods, which they weren't. It's like blindly callin' alla today's kids... "Whiggers," "Britkneeoids," or "Urban Gap-Fitters.") But thankfully, as writers tend to wanna, there ain't no "perspective" as to what N2 "means"... it don't "mean" nothing. N2 oughta be seen simply as a proud testimony to the loads of clever kids EVERYWHERE, at the same damn time, who really dug playin' cool music while tryin' to have some fun... they got loaded, laid... and MAYBE paid, that's it. MIKE NIPPER

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GILLIAN WELCH
Time (The Revelator)
(Acony Records)
***1/2

With the success of the O Brother Where Art Thou? soundtrack, mountain music gained national attention. Gillian Welch's inclusion in that project and her contribution to the Songcatcher soundtrack were no coincidental head nods. Like Iris DeMent, Welch has a voice that conjures an earlier time and older musical vernaculars. Welch has explored rural roots since her 1996 debut, Revival, and even more harshly with its stark 1998 follow-up, Hell Among the Yearlings. With Time (The Revelator) Welch stays her course, the roots of her Appalachian sound growing ever deeper. Partner David Rawlings' co-writing and production lend the album an elemental grace, allowing Welch's melancholic molasses voice to work its slow magic. On "I Want to Sing That Rock and Roll," Welch lets the dreamy abandon and release beneath the remorse that shadows her songs to come bursting through. It's cathartic and redemptive without being forced. Like the rest of the album it has a twilight quality where the day and night meet, and both seem the better for it. NATE LIPPENS