Gurf Morlix, Blaze Foley’s 113th Wet Dream
Cult favorite Blaze Foley is getting his due, with a variety of tribute albums on the market. Shot to death in 1989, the Austin songwriter left a legacy of stark songs buzzed through with humor, sarcasm and gloom—and left many bereft friends, though he didn’t get the national recognition that came to, say, his friend Townes Van Zandt (whose song “Blaze’s Blues” is a tribute), not to mention Merle Haggard, who had a hit with Blaze’s “If I Could Only Fly.” Blaze (real name Michael David Fuller) also worked with his friend, musician/producer/songwriter Gurf Morlix, whose new tribute album is a creep-up-on-you kind of winner.
Few songwriters attain the naked honesty Foley managed even in his lesser songs, and Morlix’s flattish, laid-back vocal style is an excellent medium for appreciating the material, even if he can sound a little sleepy in a ballad like “Picture Cards.” My favorites on this disc include “Big Cheeseburgers and Good French Fries,” the biting “Small Town Hero,” the hilarious title track, and the sad “Down Here Where I Am” (“The river’s overflowing down here where I am / The rain keeps on pouring, I can’t get into town”). But the album is really all of a piece—a homespun tapestry in the muted colors of the streets of the old, weird America. “I could do it all better if I could do it again,” Foley wrote in “Cold, Cold World,” which closes the disc. Two decades later he’s doing it again, thanks to those who remember him, and this disc is a solid contribution to the celebration of his legacy.
Carey Ott, Human Heart
It’s a big production, this one—20 songs, almost an hour and quarter of genre-coasting pop-rock. It feels like a concept album, except the concept is the human experience. “I don’t have the answers, only love,” Ott sings in “Ain’t No Upside” amid relaxed electric piano filigrees. On the whole the disc has a soft, acoustic sensibility despite the full arrangements, and this comes partly from the simple yet sophisticated melodies. Well-crafted songs for adults? A whole album of them? Shocker. Even the occasional lapse into sugary James Blunt-style wimpiness (as in “Coming Up for Air”) I can enjoy because of the artfully arranged moodiness of the music. “I’m just happy to be part of the show,” Ott sings in “Just Happy,” and he makes you believe it—and start feeling the same way yourself.
Various Artists, Putumayo Presents Bossa Nova around the World
Bossa Nova: It’s not just “The Girl from Ipanema.” Putumayo’s new collection is a pleasing tableau of interpretations of this ever-popular style, which emanated from Brazil half a century ago and has never faded away. Bïa’s singing of Keren Ann’s “Jardim” is a weak beginning, but fortunately the disc picks up after that with a good variety of tunes, including uptempo ones, like Nancy Vieira and Tito Paris’s “Esperança de Mar Azul”) and the quietly sprightly, flute-adorned “Vida de Estrela” from Pierre Aderne. There are gently soulful tracks like Amanda Martinez’s “Hasta Que Pueda,” and smooth numbers like French singer Didier Sustrac’s “Tout Seul,” for which Putumayo reached all the way back to 1993—at just over four minutes it’s the second-longest track here, but I was sad when it faded out.
Berlin-based 2raumwohnung delivers a version of bossa that sounds too studied, even antiseptic, with vocals from Inga Humpe that leap the line from laid-back to boring (always a danger when non-Brazilian artists try bossa). The loungy quality of Tom & Joy’s take on the Jobim standard “Meditation” doesn’t do much for me, though I imagine it would play better in a dark club than in my home office; trumpeter Dusko Goykovich’s contribution, “Menina Moça,” glories in his cushiony tone and provides a welcome instrumental break. The collection returns to Jobim with the Norwegian Hilde Hefte’s take on the classic “Corcovado,” which the singer somehow makes both sultry and ethereal; the disc rounds out with Stacey Kent and Jim Tomlinson’s slow, intimate version of “So Nice,” South Korean singer Monla’s original “Railroad” (with a superb uncredited guitar solo), and the intense “Mon Père à Moi” from Kad Achouri, a Spanish-Algerian Frenchman who sings of Algerian immigrants and their under-appreciated contributions to France’s well-being. It’s a tiny taste of music’s ability to go deep, even on a smooth, pleasant-sounding collection like this.